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Stockton discussing overturn on California's soda tax ban to fund coronavirus relief

Financial impacts from the coronavirus are widespread and indiscriminate. Everything is on the table, even talk about the state's soda tax ban for local governments.

STOCKTON, Calif. — The coronavirus wreaked havoc on city and family budgets alike, and when it comes to a solution, everything is on the table, even talks about California's soda tax ban.

Stockton is taking up the conversation about the ban and will weigh whether they want to call for an overturn of the law in light of coronavirus impacts. The resolution itself wouldn't pass any kind of tax. 

The resolution would call on the state to overturn Senate Bill 872, which temporarily banned soda taxes by local governments until 2031, and would allow Stockton residents to decide for themselves whether or not they want a soda tax to help with coronavirus relief.

The item was placed on the city council agenda at the request of TOLA Organizing Academy, a local organization that tried to get momentum for a soda tax a couple of years ago before the ban.

"Here we are in the middle of COVID-19, the health pandemic, with the option and possibility of maybe undoing that legislation to bring in needed resources to the local community through a soda tax," said Lolis Ramirez, executive director for TOLA Organzing Academy.

Ramirez points to the Seattle, who she says provided $800 vouchers to more than 6,000 people during the pandemic from their soda tax revenues. It was money they could use for groceries, cleaning supplies, and other household goods at any Safeway in Washington state.

"We thought, 'if Seattle can do it, why can't we,'" Ramirez said.

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While many options are on the table due to the virus' impact on cities, taxpayer advocates don't believe it's prudent to put more pressure on the businesses that supply revenue for cities.

"One can make a very compelling case that now is the time for substantial tax cuts in order to allow families and businesses to recover," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Tax Payers Association.

Coupal criticized that a soda tax would disproportionately impact low and middle-class consumers and suppress businesses.

"It seems to us that now is not the time to be talking about any potential tax increases," Coupal said. "Obviously, families and businesses have taken a substantial hit during this pandemic."

As California grapples with record unemployment, criticism for a potential tax is not lost on Ramirez.

"I think that argument is valid, and I think it's going to exist regardless if we were in a health pandemic or not," Ramirez said. "I think the reality is that where there has been a soda tax, it's worked [in regard to diabetes and health issue drops]."

The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, a nonprofit research and public policy organization, has a calculator that estimates potential tax revenues from a soda tax. For a $0.01 per ounce tax for Stockton, it estimates around $10 million in annual tax revenues.

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Ramirez says this could be money that goes toward youth services, senior services, and family service to help people during the pandemic.

"That's really the goal is to get creative, [and] find new ways to fight this public health pandemic that we have with a public health weapon, which is the soda tax," Ramirez said.

Santa Cruz has already passed a resolution, and Ramirez says cities in Southern California and up to the Bay Area have shown interest in the discussion.

California Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) tried to push a statewide soda tax, but the bill didn't get enough support to pass. 

A statement from the American Beverage Association echoed sentiments of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer's Association.

"These kinds of taxes are not supported by the people of California because they place an unfair burden on working families, small businesses and their employees — who are struggling even more with a historic, devastating economic downturn," the American Beverage Association said in a statement to ABC10. "Nearly 70% of voters support the law passed by the legislature that protects consumers from new local taxes on grocery items. That protection will be even more helpful to people across California during a period of economic recovery."

More information on the discussion and link to the Stockton City Council agenda can be found HERE

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