Proposed DC tax on sugary drinks stirs up support and skepticism

Soda aficionados, beware: If a new bill passes, D.C.’s sugary drinks would become some of the most expensive in the country.

The proposal seeks to improve health in the District’s lower income neighborhoods by making the price of a bottle of soda less palatable with a $.015 cent-per-ounce excise tax — meaning the price of a two-liter-bottle of soda will likely go up by a dollar.

The bill will go before the D.C. City Council on Tuesday, where it has majority support, The Washington Post reported.

Supporters of the bill say the goal is to encourage healthier choices in low-income neighborhoods in Northeast and Southeast D.C., where obesity and diabetes are diagnosed at high rates. The tax would also fund programs geared toward fresh produce and early childhood education.

But Ellen Valentino, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Beverage Association, is staunchly opposed to the proposal, which she said will likely result in job cuts.

“We think it is a big mistake,” she said, adding that one of the top priorities has been to retain and attract retail grocery stores, she told WTOP.

A similar tax in Pennsylvania led to a drop in the sale of sugary drinks within its jurisdiction, but resulted in higher beverage purchases in surrounding areas where the tax did not apply.

“People will flee in order to purchase beverages and other grocery items outside the city’s borders,” Valentino added.

The proposal comes just days after D.C. added an additional 2% sales tax on soft drinks. If passed, the new excise tax would supplant that sales tax.

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