Letter: Speak Up on the Beverage Tax

To the Editor:

If you have picked up the paper recently, you’ve probably noticed a full-page ad warning, “There’s no room in Vermont grocery carts for a beverage tax.” The ad goes on to warn that prices on sodas, juice drinks, sweetened teas and sports drinks will increase and possibly go up “almost 50 percent.”

The initial, overpowering impression is that legislators in Montpelier are, once again, about to drop a new tax on Vermonters, this time for everything we pour into a glass.

In fact, the original bill (H-234) proposes an excise tax on sweetened (that is, sweetener-added) beverages only. The bill is clearly a response to the ongoing alarm nationwide concerning the correlation between frequent consumption of high-fructose corn syrup and beet/cane sugars and obesity with early onset of type-2 diabetes. The intent is to direct tax revenue to a program dedicated to improved treatment and prevention of those diseases (H-418), in the same way revenues from tobacco taxes are used for health care programs.

Milk, fruit juices, maple syrup, infant formula, honey and plain bottled water would be exempt. Alcoholic beverages are already taxed and therefore not affected.

The ad campaign is subsidized by the American Beverage Association, a trade organization representing the industry whose members produce everything you see in the cornucopia of beverages below the fold — none of which contain fewer than 100 calories (all carbohydrates) per 8-ounce serving and 35 to 40 milligrams of sodium. In 2010, the ABA spent close to $10 million lobbying against similar measures across the country. High-fructose corn syrup and beet/cane sugars, highly-subsidised by the federal government for many years, are what enable the members of the American Beverage Association to make and distribute their products so profitably.

I urge you to take a look at the bills as they stand, and to follow them as they move through the Legislature. You can download the bills at the Vermont Legislature’s website. Read the bills and make up your own mind. Contact your local legislator (especially if he or she is a co-sponsor) and communicate your support or opposition. Leave the histrionics to the paid lobbyists.

Victor Ialeggio