Proposed tax on sugary beverages elicits crticism

Bailey Williams, Assistant City Editor

A bill proposed in the Illinois General Assembly that would tax sugary beverages has been met with criticism from those who fear its impact on the economy and consumer’s wallets.

“Our organization is very much opposed to the legislation,” Timothy Bramlet, Illinois Beverage Association executive director, said.

State Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) proposed the bill that would tax mainly sugary beverages by a penny an ounce. The goal of the tax is to get people to reach for healthier alternatives to sugary drinks, Gabel said. The tax, which will not impact water and diet beverages, is designed to raise the shelf cost of sugary drinks, where people will notice the difference in pricing more than at the register, she said. The funds generated would go toward combating obesity and increasing health education, Gabel said.

“People … (should) reflect and decide what kind of beverage they want to drink,” Gabel said.

The Illinois Beverage Association seeks to provide consumers with a variety of products on demand at the lowest price possible. Bramlet has said legislation such as Gabel’s makes it hard for the organization’s goals to be accomplished.

“The (beverage) industry plays a big role in the Illinois economy,” Bramlet said. “Those jobs are threatened.”

Bramlet added that a decrease in consumption would lead to a decrease in jobs.

Bramlet said the tax would not only affect soda, but also some fruit juices as well. As far as health is concerned, Bramlet said only about 6 percent of caloric intake is attributed to the group’s beverages.

He added that the organization contributes to the fight against obesity in ways like helping to build playgrounds across the country.

Gabel said she wanted to sponsor the legislation because of her interest in public health. Gabel hopes the passage of the bill would lead to a “reduction in obesity” and an increase in education on food and exercise. Legislators need to direct more funds to treating problems that stem from obesity, Gabel said.

“I recognize that we have an obesity epidemic in this country,” Gabel said.

Gabel identified the idea of taxation as one of the challenges in getting the bill passed. Still, residents in her district think the proposal is a good idea, she said. Gabel has received emails from people offering to help and showing their interest in the measure.

As far as the timeline for the tax is concerned, neither Bramlet nor Gabel had a definite time expectancy. Bramlet expected the measure would not “get anywhere this spring,” while Gabel said she hoped discussion of her proposal would be raised within the next five weeks. Because this is a time when the legislature’s budget is reviewed, Gabel is hoping the discussion of her proposed soda tax will be brought forward.

Although he didn’t expect it to happen this spring, Bramlet said he could see the discussion later becoming an ongoing debate.

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