Unexpectedly, Oakland's soda tax money may be going... elsewhere

Last year, following in the footsteps of Berkeley, Philadelphia and other liberal bastions, the city of Oakland decided to save the citizens from themselves by passing a sin tax on soda and other “sugary beverages.” When the residents agreed to put it on the ballot in the spring it was being sold as a measure which would help “combat obesity” and fight the Big Soda Lobby. And the city’s politicians were quick to tell everyone how badly this revenue stream was needed while being far less specific about how the money they collected would be handled. (SF Gate, emphasis added)

Like Berkeley, [Oakland Vice Mayor Annie Campbell Washington] said, Oakland needs a dedicated revenue stream to combat the big-money marketing of soda and sports drinks.

If voters approve the tax, the money raised would go into the city’s general fund, and officials said the idea is to earmark it to pay for health and education programs in the community and in schools. The measure requires the city to create an advisory board to recommend how to spend the money.

You’ll note that the city’s leaders didn’t actually have a direct allocation of the funding set up, so it was going to go into the general fund. But no worries, mate. I’m sure they can be trusted.

The measure passed in November with the tax going into effect shortly thereafter. So problem solved, eh? I’m sure people are losing weight and living healthier lifestyles all over the place already, thanks to the dollars being hijacked out of shoppers’ wallets when they go to buy groceries.

Or perhaps not. Keep in mind that this was all taking place at the end of last year. It’s only a few months later now and there’s about to be some editing done as to where that soda tax money goes. Who could have guessed? (CBS Local News)

Mayor Libby Schaaf says Oakland is facing a $32 million budget shortfall. She wants to help fill the gap by diverting $6 million of soda tax.

Many people are upset because city leaders promised voters the money would be used for health programs.

“It’s a bait and switch by the mayor,” says resident Louis Nagel.

The mayor is now saying that the soda tax money will be going to budget items including libraries, parks, fixing potholes and affordable housing. Pardon me for being so rude as to point this out, but that sounds suspiciously like the normal day-to-day business of any city’s typical operations. What does that have to do with combating the Big Soda Lobby and fighting obesity?

The answer, of course, is… nothing. The politicians in Oakland conducted an extensive (and expensive) campaign to get the residents to agree to a new tax which hit the city’s poorest families the hardest, selling it as some sort of experiment in social justice and cleaner living. But they routed the tax money through the general fund so they would retain the option of spending it however they chose. And in a matter of months that was precisely what they were doing.

Sin taxes such as these are a joke. They are vehicles for politicians to get the taxpayers to agree to pony up more cash under the guise of doing something noble but they wind up being yet another cash grab. And now that the tax is on the books it will likely prove immensely difficult (if not impossible) to repeal. Well played, Oakland. You’ve managed to swindle your own voters once again while delivering pretty much nothing that you promised in return.

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David Strom 12:01 PM on October 07, 2022