Vermont Attorney General calls for Soda Tax
MONTPELIER, Vermont: William Sorrell, who was just elected to a fourth straight term as the state's attorney general earlier this month, is calling for a comprehensive excise tax on sugar-sweetened drinks in an effort to curb health care costs for the state. The proposal was unveiled at a state press conference on Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 under the banner of the Vermont Healthy Weight Initiative. Sorrell stated that "half of the money raised by the tax would be used to beef up various efforts to improve Vermonters' eating habits," though he failed to specify what some of those programs would be.
The proposal almost immediately drew harsh criticism from a wide range of individuals including state public officials, a coalition of beverage interests and the general public. The Beverage Association of Vermont chastised Sorrell for demonizing sugary drinks, citing that there is no evidence to suggest that such a tax would effectively combat obesity. Others were quick to note that Sorrell is the state's top law enforcement officer, not its public health official. He claims, however, that as state attorney general he has a duty to look out for the well-being of the general public and obesity represents a significant public health danger. Richard Sears, a Democratic member of the State Senate, also took aim at Sorrell's proposal, arguing that it was not the answer to combating obesity and would only drive state residents to purchase these products in neighboring states effectively siphoning revenue from local business owners and state coffers.
If implemented, the excise tax would be placed on certain sodas, sweetened iced tea, sports drinks, energy drinks, and flavored waters; it would not, however, be applied to fruit juice, diet sodas, or straight water. Sorrell contends that this proposal would cut state resident consumption of sugary drinks by twenty percent and raise $30 million annually. In an economy that is still struggling and a state that is facing a $112 million deficit, a new tax such as this will be a tough sell.