SF Chronicle Throws Shade on Soda Tax

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the San Francisco Chronicle is liberal or conservative, just like it’s hard to tell if we’re supposed to take seriously, or even still read, SFGate. But when it comes to the newspaper’s muckraker columnists Matier & Ross, their jugular-seeking work is always must-read material.

Which brings us to the enterprising duo’s latest column, “Big Soda gets boost from the Bern in SF and Oakland.” Sadly, this one has the feeling of being a little too phoned-in. It seizes on an op-ed from April in Philadelphia magazine in which Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders argues that a sugary beverage tax in the East Coast city would be “a regressive grocery tax” most negatively impacting low-income families. (The Philly tax passed in June, by the way.) M&R say this sentiment from the world’s most popular progressive is being pimped by anti-sugar-tax folks right here in San Francisco and Oakland, where such a tax is again going before voters in November.

What they failed to disclose is that Sanders’ argument against the tax was predicated on the fact that he doesn’t think that’s how Philadelphia’s mayor should pay for a free preschool initiative. Instead, Sanders thinks it makes “much more sense to finance universal preschool in Philadelphia by raising taxes on its wealthiest residents who currently benefit from flat state and city tax rates.” Ah yes, that’s the Bernie Sanders we know.

But that position is certainly less sexy than “Bernie Sanders Gives Big Soda Big Boost.” And that’s especially true when the kicker of your column is disproving a recent study showing a 21 percent drop in sugary beverage consumption in low-income parts of Berkeley, which already has a soda tax.   

“The records show that in March 2015, when the tax went into effect, Berkeley collected $117,433 in sales taxes from high-sugar drinks,” M&R wrote. “In February 2016, the most recent month for which figures are available, the city took in $115,968 — that’s a drop of just 1.2 percent in sales of the sweet stuff. Considering that February is shorter than March, the tax collections per day actually rose.”

The column goes on to conclude that someone is lying, or rich people in Berkeley drink a crap ton of soda. And Bernie Sanders is a two-faced bastard.

The problem with relying on those sales figures is that consumers are apparently paying different prices for soda at different stores, with some retailers absorbing the new cost burden more than others. But hey, that doesn’t really work for the column so forget about it.

Regardless of who you believe or whether you think the government should be your nanny, San Francisco voters will again be voting on a sugar tax this November. It’s unclear at this point if anyone will change their minds from two years ago when it failed, but the Chronicle seems keen on seeing a repeat.


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