Latest Attack on “Big Gulps” Would Hurt Poor, Infringe Upon our Freedom

With great fanfare, a group of Democratic lawmakers announced last week their latest effort targeting people who commit the worst social faux pas imaginable – drinking a Big Gulp!

Led by Bay Area Democrat Assemblyman Rob Bonta, lawmakers introduced legislation attacking the scourge of so-called “big soda”, including bills limiting the size of fountain drinks to 16 ounces (AB 766), and regulating where soda can be displayed and sold in stores (AB 765).

Bonta has proposed (AB 764) restricting “promotion subsidies” – discounts and promotions soda companies can offer retailers to lower soda prices.

At a press conference, he decried the “promotions such as manufacturers coupons” that “(lower) the cost for sugary drinks (which often) result . . . in soda actually being cheaper than bottled water.”

What a terrible thing – companies offering their products at lower prices to consumers!  Never mind the fact that Gov. Newsom and legislators are proposing a new tax on drinking water in California and that lawmakers continue to target bottled water over its packaging.

Bonta and others spoke of the impact of soda on poor communities.  Yet lawmakers are again proposing a new soda tax (AB 138).  As California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office noted late last year in a report, “excise taxes (on things like soda) are usually regressive, meaning lower-income people tend to spend a higher share of their incomes on the tax than higher-income people.”  A prior version of this bill was estimated to be a $2 billion tax increase.

Raising the hyperbole further, San Francisco Democrat David Chiu proclaimed that, “the soda industry is the new tobacco industry.”  Lawmakers proposed placing a health warning label on soda bottles (SB 347) as part of their bill package.

Despite the rhetoric about “public health” and generating revenue for new health programs, that’s not really what this effort is all about.  It’s really about revenge.

Last year, some at the State Capitol declared war on who they term “big soda” because the beverage industry had the audacity to beat them at their own game.

As I wrote last year on Right by the Bay, the beverage industry gave lawmakers a choice – pass a statewide soda tax moratorium or face a ballot measure raising the vote threshold to pass new local taxes to two-thirds.

Forced to choose, they went with the soda tax moratorium.  But threatening the ability of Sacramento big spenders to tax and spend as they like is tantamount to a declaration of war.

That’s why liberal lawmakers came out with their multi-pronged attack.  Yes, their bill package empowers them to do things they like, such as telling people how to live their lives and spending on new programs.  But what really matters to them is settling a score.

On the policy, Bonta and his colleagues have clearly never read Milton Friedman’s classic Free to Choose.  These bills trample on the concept of freedom of choice.  Collectively, the bills chip away at the freedom of manufacturers to offer a legal product to consumers at a low price – and market that legal product as they wish.  Worse, they diminish the freedom of people to choose the beverage of their choice, in the size of their choice.

Whether you are a soda consumer or not, freedom-loving Californians should be concerned by infringement upon people’s personal liberty.

Tim Anaya is the communications director for the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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