Effort to Tax Sodas Dies in the Legislature

Amendment withdrawn in face of opposition on new taxes.

Soda won't be taxed in Massachusetts any time soon.

Although most Massachusetts voters want to see soda taxed, the effort did not have adequate support in the Legislature, which is wary of imposing any new taxes on state's citizens. 

Representative Kay Khan (D-Newton) had proposed to lift the tax exemption on several beverages including sodas, juice drinks with less of 50 percent natural juice, and bottled coffee and tea drinks. The amendment was one of 275 attached to the 188-page health care reform bill, designed to cut $160 million in spending over the next 15 years.

The amendment was backed by Reps. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) and Carl Sciortino (D-Medford). 

Khan had argued that soda is not food and should be exempt from the state's 6.25 percent sales tax. Furthermore, revenue generated from a tax on soda could go into the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund. 

A local business group, the Alliance for Business Leadership, backed the proposal and estimated that the new tax could raise $61.5 million. And the idea has the broad support by the state's taxpayers, according to a poll last summer by The Boston Foundation.

In that poll, two-thirds of respondents favored the idea of a soda tax to generate money for a wellness fund. And half of respondents favored ending the exemption for soda and candy regardless of how the revenue would be used (Khan's proposal did not extend to candy, the inclusion of which could affect other foods with sugar).

Massachusetts is only one of 12 states that does not tax soda, according to the Boston Globe. And the sugary beverage has been increasingly under attack nationwide as a culprit in the losing battle to fight childhood obesity. Recently, Mayor Michael Bloomberg drew national attention for his proposal to ban the sale of soft drinks larger than 16 ounces in New York City.

But regardless of the popular support behind the idea of a tax, members of the Legislature ruled this week that it was beyond the scope of the health care bill, and Khan withdrew the amendment. A similar proposal to expand the types of tobacco products subject to the excise tax on cigarettes was also excluded. 

"It was an uphill battle anyway because it's an election year. There were a lot of feelings about not wanting to talk about taxes right now," Khan said. "I think this just wasn't the year, unfortunately." 

Khan said she plans to reintroduce a bill containing similar language in the next session, beginning in January. 

In addition to Speaker Robert DeLeo's opposition to any new taxes, the amendment was fought by the Associated Industries of Massachusetts

The health care cost-containment bill, sans the soda amendment, passed the House by a vote of 148-7.


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