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Vt. House Panel Pushes Soda Tax Forward

  • In this Jan. 30, 2013 photo, Brig. Gen. Steven Cray, a candidate for Vermont adjutant general, looks for lawmakers to talk with in Montpelier, Vt. The Vermont Legislature is getting ready to elect a new adjutant general, the head of the state National Guard. Vermont is the only state where the legislature elects the top guard officer.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

    In this Jan. 30, 2013 photo, Brig. Gen. Steven Cray, a candidate for Vermont adjutant general, looks for lawmakers to talk with in Montpelier, Vt. The Vermont Legislature is getting ready to elect a new adjutant general, the head of the state National Guard. Vermont is the only state where the legislature elects the top guard officer.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

  • Col. Darryl Ducharme, left, a candidate for Vermont adjutant general, confers with Rep. Mark Woodward, D-Johnson at the Statehouse on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. The Vermont Legislature is getting ready to elect a new adjutant general, the head of the state National Guard. Vermont is the only state where the legislature elects the top guard officer.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

    Col. Darryl Ducharme, left, a candidate for Vermont adjutant general, confers with Rep. Mark Woodward, D-Johnson at the Statehouse on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. The Vermont Legislature is getting ready to elect a new adjutant general, the head of the state National Guard. Vermont is the only state where the legislature elects the top guard officer.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

  • Sugar-sweetened drinks are displayed at a store on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. A prominent Vermont economist is warning that a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages will send more Vermonters out of state to shop. Supporters of the measure says the state needs the revenue to pay for health programs, and that Vermonters need to be encouraged to drink less of the beverages, which have been tied to a nationwide increase in obesity nationwide.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

    Sugar-sweetened drinks are displayed at a store on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. A prominent Vermont economist is warning that a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages will send more Vermonters out of state to shop. Supporters of the measure says the state needs the revenue to pay for health programs, and that Vermonters need to be encouraged to drink less of the beverages, which have been tied to a nationwide increase in obesity nationwide.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

  • Sugar-sweetened drinks are displayed at a store on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. A prominent Vermont economist is warning that a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages will send more Vermonters out of state to shop. Supporters of the measure says the state needs the revenue to pay for health programs, and that Vermonters need to be encouraged to drink less of the beverages, which have been tied to a nationwide increase in obesity nationwide.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

    Sugar-sweetened drinks are displayed at a store on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. A prominent Vermont economist is warning that a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages will send more Vermonters out of state to shop. Supporters of the measure says the state needs the revenue to pay for health programs, and that Vermonters need to be encouraged to drink less of the beverages, which have been tied to a nationwide increase in obesity nationwide.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

  • In this Jan. 30, 2013 photo, Brig. Gen. Steven Cray, a candidate for Vermont adjutant general, looks for lawmakers to talk with in Montpelier, Vt. The Vermont Legislature is getting ready to elect a new adjutant general, the head of the state National Guard. Vermont is the only state where the legislature elects the top guard officer.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
  • Col. Darryl Ducharme, left, a candidate for Vermont adjutant general, confers with Rep. Mark Woodward, D-Johnson at the Statehouse on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. The Vermont Legislature is getting ready to elect a new adjutant general, the head of the state National Guard. Vermont is the only state where the legislature elects the top guard officer.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
  • Sugar-sweetened drinks are displayed at a store on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. A prominent Vermont economist is warning that a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages will send more Vermonters out of state to shop. Supporters of the measure says the state needs the revenue to pay for health programs, and that Vermonters need to be encouraged to drink less of the beverages, which have been tied to a nationwide increase in obesity nationwide.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
  • Sugar-sweetened drinks are displayed at a store on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. A prominent Vermont economist is warning that a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages will send more Vermonters out of state to shop. Supporters of the measure says the state needs the revenue to pay for health programs, and that Vermonters need to be encouraged to drink less of the beverages, which have been tied to a nationwide increase in obesity nationwide.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

Montpelier — A Vermont House committee voted yesterday to advance legislation calling for a penny-an-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

The House Health Care Committee voted 7-2, with two members absent, for the tax bill that would raise an estimated $27 million to support state health programs. Supporters say it will also discourage consumption of products that are big contributors to obesity.

“We have an obesity epidemic and the scientific data is clear that sugar-sweetened beverages have a unique place in contributing to this epidemic,” said Rep. George Till, D-Jericho, a doctor and member of the Health Care Committee.

He said reliable studies have shown the tax would “substantially reduce the average 44 gallons a year of sugar-sweetened beverages we drink in Vermont.”

The measure faces an uncertain future. Gov. Peter Shumlin has gone on record opposing the tax, saying it would send shoppers to neighboring states. That argument is being pushed hard by retailers and a beverage industry group that has been buying full-page newspaper ads and has launched a full-court press lobbying effort to block the tax.

“We don’t believe we should be singled out as an industry and a heavy tax placed on our products,” said David LaRose, a manager with the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Northern New England.

He said the beverage industry already has been taking steps to reduce the beverages’ role in increasing obesity, pulling high-sugar drinks from schools, offering a broader range of low- and no-sugar products and promoting school athletic programs.

The tax would be levied on distributors, rather than paid on retail sales like a sales tax. LaRose said companies would respond by spreading the cost of the tax across their full range of products, so any price signal that might prompt a consumer to choose bottled water over a Coke would be lost.