July 5, 2018-
On Sunday, lawmakers in California voted on Senate Bill 872, a piece of legislature that included, among other things, a move to bar any new local soda taxes until the year 2031. If the move seems strikingly counterintuitive and goes against everything we thought we knew about California, don’t worry, it’s not just you. Thanks to an unusual strategy, the bill became bona fide law four days later. So, what happened?
Officials who support sugary-drink levies admitted that they had little choice but to pass the bill, which effectively puts a 12-year moratorium on perhaps the biggest threat to Big Soda’s profits, in the state that developed the most robust anti-soda policies in the country. All Coca-Cola and Pepsi needed to win the most decisive victory yet in the soda tax wars was a hundred days and a few million dollars. Considering the outcome and billion-dollar profits, the maneuver cost the beverage industry basically nothing.
In theory, the tactic could conceivably extend to every other state, says Mark Pertschuk, director of Grassroots Change. Pertschuk fought Big Tobacco in the ’80s, when the combined forces of corporate nicotine titans tried preemption as a means to defeat smoke-free policies in cities. This is “a page right out of their playbook,” he says.
“If California, a progressive state and the biggest in the Union, can’t resist the soda industry’s millions, why would one in the middle of the country say no?” says Pertschuk. “It just shows complete weakness by elected officials regardless of party.”
“California did it, they’ll argue,” he says. “Why shouldn’t a more reasonable state pass this, too?”