The California Community Health Fund (AB 138) has been stopped in the Assembly Committee on Revenue and Taxation. It will not be heard on Monday, April 22nd. Officially, the bill has been “held” to be further amended to meet the requests of Committee Chair, Assemblymember Autumn Burke. We are disappointed but not deterred from our goal of taxing harmful sugary beverages to reduce consumption and generate revenue to create a more just and sustainable food system in our state. Our diverse and growing coalition will continue to work with the Chair, the Author, Assemblymember Richard Bloom and other legislators to amend the bill and pass it out of the Committee in January 2020.
Our task is difficult. This bill puts many legislators in a vise they fear. On one side, they face community members, scientists, public health and food justice advocates who are acting to end the epidemic of diet-related disease, driven by a broken food system that allows sugary beverages to be cheaper than water. On the other, they face the fear and misinformation stoked by Big Soda companies around the impacts of the legislation.
Big soda will go to any lengths to stop this kind of legislation: last year they propelled a pre-emption bill forward that stopped local voters from passing their own soda taxes anywhere in California. Now, they have moved to stop a statewide tax. Like fossil fuel corporations, Big Soda companies are on the wrong side of history. They put profit before people (particularly our children) and use their immense financial power to stop needed change. Our coalition must create a political environment that moves legislators to take a bold and risky step, one in line with the science and with history and one that prioritizes health and equity.
Supporting our cause cuts legislators off from the industry’s financial power and forces them to face constituents worried about a tax. But the sad truth is we all pay for the health impacts of liquid sugar: in our taxes or through our medical system. Far too many will pay even more through their suffering due to the many diseases caused by overconsumption of sugar and poor nutrition. There is no escape from the real cost of sugary drinks, just as there is no escape from the real cost of fossil fuel. We need bold legislators who are creating a healthier future no matter the political pain.
We want to thank all those who took the time to make calls, send letters and emails and/or post to social media and who prepared to travel to Sacramento to stand with us at the Committee Hearing. We also want to thank our closest allies at the American Heart Association, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, MVM Strategy Group, Social Justice Learning Institute and the bill’s courageous author, Assemblymember Richard Bloom, and his able staff, with whom we worked to evolve bill language.
We made more progress this year than in the past. Many new voices and key legislators joined our call for change. This inspires us to continue the struggle. In the end, we will meet our dual goals of reducing sugary beverage consumption and funding the transformation of California’s food system to make our communities healthier and more resilient.