A Legal Pulse post by WLF’s Chairman, Dan Popeo, this past Monday noted an Institute of Medicine workshop on legal strategies to address America’s collectively expanding waistline, which featured Vermont’s Attorney General touting the idea of increasing state taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages. Though Congress ultimately rejected the idea of a tax on soda in the Affordable Care Act, proponents of such an excise tax kept the idea alive in state legislatures throughout 2010.
One legislature which won’t be imposing new food or beverage-targeted “sin” taxes next year is Washington state’s. In a development that went largely unreported, Washington’s citizens overwhelming voted last week to repeal a state excise tax on, among other items, soda and candy. A whopping 61% of voters indicated “yes” in a ballot initiative aimed at removing the tax. Washington’s repeal follows in the footsteps of a 2008 vote in Maine which, by a similar margin, did away with an excise tax on the syrup used to make soda in restaurants, bottled soft drinks, beer, and wine.
While one could certainly tie voters’ opposition of such taxes to the current economic struggles, we’d like to think another motivating factor was the perversely paternalistic nature of levies aimed at engineering personal food and beverage choices. Maybe the voters also understood that these taxes simply don’t work. As two experts on government health policy, Dr. John Luik and Patrick Basham, wrote earlier this year in a WLF Legal Backgrounder, excise taxes aimed at foods and beverages cannot be scientifically justified on the grounds that they reduce consumption.
Whatever the reason, Washington state’s voters have spoken. Are policymakers in state government and in Washington, D.C. listening?