California cities and counties want their rights back…because, as the saying goes, they’re not done using them. In this case, that means repealing preemption to restore the authority of local voters and elected officials to adopt taxes or fees on soda and other sugar sweetened beverages (SSB’s) – a difficult task under the best of circumstances.
Why (and how) did the vast majority of California’s communities get frozen out of the burgeoning soda tax movement, especially during a time when we must protect our democracy at ALL levels more than ever?
In 2018, the California Legislature buckled under industry pressure (see “Jerry Brown dined with soda industry representatives ahead of tax ban deal”) and agreed, in secret, to preemption in exchange for the soda industry abandoning a much broader statewide preemption ballot initiative to limit all authority to adopt state and local taxes in California. There are 482 cities and 58 counties in California, but only four were able to pass soda taxes before Sacramento shut the door on new soda taxes. At least 30 cities and counties had already initiated or envisioned grassroots, youth-powered campaigns for soda taxes before the Legislature, like Lucy with her football, undermined local democracy.
How can California undo the damage and regain the right to promote health and equity through soda taxes?
Soda taxes like the one adopted in Berkeley are as much about social justice as municipal income. First, soda taxes of one cent per ounce or more can significantly reduce soda consumption and the often deadly consequences of overconsumption, especially Type 2 diabetes. Second, revenues from local soda taxes STAY in those communities, can’t be diverted by the legislature, and provide sustained support for a wide range of effective health policies and programs including hands-on school gardening and nutrition activities (it may surprise some of our followers how excited children become about healthy eating when they’ve grown and prepared their own foods), as well as disease prevention programs serving exactly those who are targeted by the soda industry itself.
The history of preemption politics in California and elsewhere teaches us that without a powerful grassroots repeal movement, Sacramento insiders could agree to a compromise that short-changes the hundreds of communities that need both the direct health benefits and the home-grown funding that will quickly follow a complete repeal of state preemption. Our elected representatives in Sacramento need to hear loud and clear that we expect them to restore the authority to pass local taxes high enough to save lives and accomplish other key public health goals.
The good news is that Grassroots Change and the hundreds of grassroots advocates in our network have learned from experience how to organize and run effective movements. These “best practices” are captured in this diagram and the grassroots research behind it…