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Newton Rep.'s Amendment to Tax Sodas Dies in the Legislature [Poll]

Newton Rep. Kay Khan proposed an amendment that would lift the tax exemption on sodas, juice drinks with less than 50 percent of natural juice, bottled coffee and tea drinks. What do you think about this amendment?

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 residents. 

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 not be exempt from the state's 6.5 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.

What do you think about Khan's amendment, or the steps being taken to combat obesity, and reduce the sugar and junk food consumed by Americans? 

Sign in to Newton Patch (click "Sign In" or "Join" in the upper right-hand corner) and tell us what you think in the comments below.

Linda Bloomingdale June 11, 2012 at 10:22 PM
The obesity problem is huge. Soda contributes to it and does nothing to add to one's health.. Diaberes and health care costs are rising uncontrollably. This is one way to try to stem the flow of sugar and high fructose corn syrup, etc...It certainly can' hurt!
Andy June 15, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Thank you to the Patch for this coverage. Kudos to Representative Khan for stepping up to the challenge of making a rational tax policy that can also help defray the high cost of public health initiatives. I look forward to seeing her succeed before long.
Melanie Graham (Editor) June 15, 2012 at 08:08 PM
Thanks for your comment, Andy! I'm thrilled our colleagues in the Boston-based Patches are able to help us with more news going on at the State House.
Fred June 15, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Why was soda and such ever excluded from taxation? This amendment addresses a basic fairness issue on the first level; beyond that, serious consideration should be given to having taxes on soda and such used directly to offset some of the health problems they create.

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