Soda Tax Effort Underway in Portland, Oregon

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By Paul Shukovsky

A coalition of public-health groups and community organizations launched an effort this week to put a soda tax on the ballot in the county encompassing Portland, Ore.

The initiative would enact a 1.5 cent-per-ounce excise tax on distributing sugar-sweetened beverages.

The Coalition for Healthy Kids and Education is confident it will collect by November more than the 17,381 signatures required to quality the initiative for the Multnomah County ballot, coalition campaign manager Terri Steenbergen told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 20. Steenbergen said her confidence is bolstered by poll numbers and the response this summer from more than 15,000 people contacted in a field campaign.

“Sugar drinks are hurting the health of our children, and we have a very good opportunity to change that,” Steenbergen said.

Children’s Programs to Benefit

The tax would be expected to raise $28 million in revenue annually that would go to a new Children’s Health and Education Fund supporting low-income communities and communities of color, she said. Fifty percent of the revenue would be allotted to early childhood education and 50 percent towards public-health initiatives, nutrition programs, exercise, and school gardens.

Steenbergen said the Coalition for Healthy Kids and Education has received $600,000 in financial support from billionaires John and Laura Arnold of Texas as well as $75,449 from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg is the founder of the financial data and media company Bloomberg L.P. Bloomberg BNA is an affiliate of Bloomberg L.P.

An organization called Move Forward Multnomah opposes the tax. “This tax will hurt small businesses like food carts and neighborhood grocery stores, and especially middle-class and low-income families,” spokeswoman Felicia Heaton told Bloomberg BNA in a Sept. 20 email. “It will require a whole new government bureaucracy to collect and administer the tax. And there is absolutely no guarantee in the measure that the revenues will go to help kids and schools. Multnomah County voters should reject this tax that targets working class people—their wallets, their jobs, their businesses.”

Move Forward Multnomah “is supported by a number of community organizations and businesses including the American Beverage Association,” Heaton said.

The American Beverage Association, along with convenience store owners, has played a prominent role in opposing such tax measures in other cities where it has passed, such as Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Cook County, Ill. The Cook County and Philadelphia taxes have been embroiled in litigation.

To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Shukovsky in Seattle at PShukovsky@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jennifer McLoughlin at jmcloughlin@bna.com

For More Information

Text of the initiative is at http://src.bna.com/sJi.

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