Article on Soda Fee

State soda fee fails to pop

Senators on the Ways and Means Committee table a charge on sugary drinks

By Derrick DePledge

Isle soda drinkers will not have to worry about paying a penalty this year to get their jolt of sugar.

State senators have chosen not to advance a soda fee of 1 cent per ounce that would have brought in about $37 million a year to counter obesity. The Abercrombie administration had hoped that the soda fee, as with higher taxes on tobacco, would discourage consumption.

“We decided that we won’t be moving forward with the soda fee this year. Of course, it’s always in play for next year,” said Sen. David Ige (D, Pearl Harbor-Pearl City-Aiea), chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “In just talking with the members, we didn’t believe that it would be prudent for us to implement that fee this year.”

The soda fee had moved through the Senate Health Committee and the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee but was not taken up by the Senate Ways and Means Committee in time to meet today’s internal procedural deadline to have bills ready to cross between chambers next week. A bill for a soda fee in the House was not advanced.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie had personally lobbied senators on the legislation, which his administration had described as a priority this session. All of the money collected from the soda fee would have been directed at state programs to combat obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes. Two years ago lawmakers rejected Abercrombie’s proposal for a soda tax by which some of the revenue would have gone into the state’s general fund.

“We’re disappointed, certainly,” said Lola Irvin of the state Department of Health. “From the Department of Health’s perspective, this was a recommended policy for public health to address creating a healthier food environment and is part of a comprehensive effort we need to address the issue of obesity and diabetes and other chronic diseases.”

The beverage industry opposed the soda fee as unfairly targeting sugar-sweetened drinks when factors such as diet and a lack of exercise also contribute to obesity. Many retailers also warned about the economic impact of a soda fee on business.

“We are pleased to hear that our state senators have used logic and common sense rather than an emotional argument to deal with the important issue of obesity,” No Hawaii Beverage Tax, a coalition of business interests, said in a statement. “It is a complex problem that must be met with a strategic, long-term, multi-faceted approach, including good diet habits and exercise, rather than with a one-beam laser gun approach called a beverage tax.

“This tax would have hurt our economy in numerous ways, including many small businesses and individual consumers. We are grateful that the Senate recognizes we must all share in the responsibility for solving obesity, rather than targeting a single product.”

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