In the middle of Connecticut’s budget crisis, health advocates see an opportunity to capitalize on the uncertainty.
The American Heart Association (AHA), joined by a University of Connecticut professor, and one member of the Connecticut General Assembly, made their case Monday for a one cent per ounce tax on all sugary drinks.
The AHA predicts that such a tax could bring in as much as $100 million annually, and would lead to other healthcare savings, specifically on programs aimed at the poor, like HUSKY, Medicaid, and those with low incomes on Medicare.
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“Revenue ideas that we had not previously contemplated are at least on the table for conversation at this juncture,” said Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, the only member of the General Assembly in attendance at the press conference.
Steinberg also said he would prefer something like a sugary drink tax rather than the current revenue generating ideas being discussed seriously by lawmakers.
“If I were to choose a revenue source, I would choose one that were at least beneficial to the people of the state of Connecticut,” Steinberg said. “If we were to compare this to adding a casino, or tolls, or potentially marijuana, this is a tax that at least has a positive health benefit, not merely in terms of reducing consumption but in medical costs down the road."
Tania Andreyeva with UConn’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, said research suggests such a tax could drive down healthcare costs, while also raising money over a sustained period of time. She said the penny per ounce approach would also be helpful to evolve with an industry that’s seeing changes to the peoples’ beverage consumption habits.
“Soda consumption is going down which is true but people are buying this new beverages, you know sports drinks, teas, iced teas which are still sugary beverages so it might have a little less sugar per serving, but it’s still sugary beverages,” said Andreyeva.
Mark Bergman with the group, Keep CT Affordable, voiced opposition to the plan which hasn’t seen serious consideration in the legislature.
In a statement, Bergman wrote, “A beverage tax will drastically raise prices on every day beverages like juice drinks, sports drinks, teas and soft drinks. In Connecticut, we have one of the largest income disparities between rich and poor and the last thing we need is new taxes or higher fees that places a much larger share of the tax burden on those families who are least capable of paying it.”