Have a Coke and a scowl

A Coke and a smile could give way to a Coke and a scowl if Richmond voters approve in November a one-cent per ounce tax on soda and sugary drinks.

The Richmond City Council voted 5-2 late Tuesday night to give voters their say on a ballot measure that supporters say could raise between $2 and $8 million dollars for school wellness and athletics programs.

If approved, Richmond would be the first city in the nation to levy a tax specifically targeting soda and sugar-laden beverages. Such consumption or excise taxes are frequently applied to items like gasoline, alcohol and cigarettes, partially as a deterrent against excessive use.

Richmond City Councilman Jeff Ritterman, M.D.  led the fight for the soda tax. Ritterman told KGO before Tuesday’s council meeting that he knows all too well the issues created by a sugary diet:

“I’m a cardiologist. I spent 30 years taking care of this problem. This is a major killer and it will kill these young children, unless we do something.”

Others criticized the tax as unfairly targeting the poor. Councilman Corky Booze told KGO he opposed the tax:

“Because it’s a tax on poor people. Let’s not just call it a sugar tax, let’s call it what it is, a tax on poor people.”

At a fixed amount per ounce, the soda tax is structured as a “regressive tax,” one where the tax rate increases as the taxed value decreases. The cheaper the price per ounce, the higher the effective tax rate.

For example, a two-liter bottle of Safeway brand cola would cost $1.45 today in a store, or a little more than 2 cents per ounce. With a Richmond tax of 67 cents — one cent per ounce — that two-liter bottle would cost $2.02, for a tax rate of more than 44 percent.

But on a 12-pack of Diet Caffeine Free Pepsi costing $7.19, $1.44 in tax on 144 ounces would represent only a 20 percent tax.