Bill would bar cities from taxing sugary drinks

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(Source: Meredith Image) (Source: Meredith Image)

A proposal in the Arizona House that would bar cities and counties from joining a growing national trend of taxing sugary drinks got a glowing reception Wednesday.

The proposal from Republican Rep. T.J. Shope of Coolidge advanced in the House Ways and Means Committee on an 8-1 vote, and even the lone Democrat who voted against the measure said she supported it but voted against it only because of concerns from her constituents.

Shope's proposal doesn't specifically mention taxes on sugary drinks, only saying any tax on food products must be uniform. But testimony from a supermarket industry lobbyist industry made it clear that's what the bill is all about.

Tim McCabe of the Arizona Food Marketing Alliance said it's not government's role to use taxes to influence consumer behavior.

"We just can't let government use tax rates to pick winners and losers in foods and beverages in what we consume today, and to have them try to influence consumers of what they deem to be a good or a bad food," McCabe said.

There no sign any Arizona city or county is currently considering taxing soda and other sugary drinks, but cities across the nation have been slowly embracing the idea as a way to discourage consumption of drinks that lead to obesity.

[RELATED: Here's why sugary drink sales are plummeting]

Seattle is the latest city to impose a soda tax, with a 1.75 cent per ounce levy on sweetened beverages such as Pepsi and Coke, sports drinks, energy drinks going into effects on Jan. 1. It joins Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Oakland, California, in imposing taxes on sugary beverages.

But there has been blowback. Board members in Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago, repealed a penny-per-ounce tax on soda and sweetened drinks in October a months long conflict that included a court battle and millions of dollars' worth of television ads on both sides. Also in October, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a new law banning local taxes on food and beverages prompted by the push to tax sugary drinks.

Arizona doesn't tax food or non-alcoholic drinks, but cities and counties can add additional levies.

"No city has done this in Arizona yet. However, various cities the country have," Shope said. "In essence, what's it's trying to prevent is that scenario from happening."

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