San Francisco Voters Will Decide on Soda Tax in November

 (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

It was a circuitous route, but a ballot measure was submitted to the San Francisco Department of Elections Tuesday afternoon, and voters in November will decide whether to levy a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

The soda tax was supposed to be placed on the ballot last month, following a signature gathering campaign. Proponents were thrilled that they had collected twice the number of signatures needed.

Just one problem: they turned those signatures in a day late.

So they pivoted. San Francisco law permits four supervisors to directly place an initiative on the ballot, and that's what happened here. Supervisors Malia Cohen, Eric Mar, Scott Wiener and Mark Farrell all signed the initiative.

The 14-page proposal links sugary beverages to the problems of obesity and diabetes, and says the measure "is intended to discourage the distribution and consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in San Francisco by taxing their distribution."

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"We're very excited about taking on 'big soda' and look forward to talking with voters about this very important public health issue," said Yoyo Chan, legislative aide to Supervisor Malia Cohen.

The beverage industry opposes such taxes, calling them regressive and unfairly singling out beverages as responsible for the problems of obesity and diabetes.

A soda tax in San Franciso failed two years ago, but that measure differed from this one. In 2014, the proposal was two-cents-per-ounce with the money dedicated to specific health programs. Because the proceeds were earmarked, the measure required a two-thirds supermajority for passage. The measure fell short, with 54.5 percent of the vote.

Oakland and Albany voters will also consider a soda tax this fall. Two years ago, Berkeley became the first city in the country with such a tax. All the measures are a penny per ounce, with proceeds intended for health programs. The funds generated will be general fund revenue.

The San Francisco measure calls for the creation of a 16-person advisory panel to advise the Board of Supervisors and the mayor to create and/or fund programs to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in San Francisco.

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Last week, the Philadelphia City Council passed a 1.5 cents per ounce soda tax. Most of the proceeds will be used to pay for pre-kindergarten in the city.

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