Tag Archives: sugar-sweetened beverage tax

Look out, here comes the Bee Pollen Brigade

Here’s the topline for today’s developments re: funding for improvements to Vermont’s health care system:

$20 million.

That’s the target figure for new revenue agreed upon by key House leaders. A big comedown from the House Health Care Committee’s $52 million, but enough to make some progress in closing the Medicaid gap*, enhancing access for the working poor, and trying to attract more primary care providers.

*The gap closure is likely to favor primary care doctors, since they’re the front line of health care and also the most financially precarious.

Exactly how the House will get to $20 million is unclear. House Ways and Means is aiming to pass a bill this week*, but it would then face an uncertain fate in the Appropriations Committee. And the House floor. And the Senate.

*Committee vote today postponed due to the absences of two Democratic members.

But $20 million seems etched in stone, at least in the House. So this morning, Ways and Means examined five different tax packages that would raise roughly $20 million per year. The options include: some sort of tax on sugar-sweetened AND diet beverages, removing the sales tax exemptions on candy, sweetened beverages, imposing the rooms and meals tax on vending machiens, increasing taxes on cigarettes and/or tobacco products, and my fave: imposing the sales tax on dietary supplements.

Gasp! Yes, lawmakers might force us to pay sales tax on cranberry extract pills, antioxidants, probiotics, pro-oxidants (is that a thing?), and all those other sundry preparations clogging the shelves of your local food co-op.

I am now counting down to the arrival of the Bee Pollen Brigade with cries of outrage. This could be the next mass invasion of the Statehouse.

But it’s among the least unpalatable options before Ways and Means. As of this writing, there’s no sense of a committee consensus or even a majority behind any of the five tax packages. (Conservative Democrat Jim Condon tried a Hail Mary pass this morning; he floated the idea of selling bonds to pay for some health care reforms. The idea was quickly shot down by the Treasurer’s office, which pointed out that it’s considered improvident to bond for short-term spending. Or, to put it in Treasurer’s terms, “You should make sure the useful life of the asset is at least as long as the life of the bond.”)

Ways and Means is working from five proposed tax packages; all five are outlined, with revenue estimates, on the committee’s website.

So, the details of the revenue package remain unclear, but the bottom line is not.

$20 million for health care.

.House Health Care gets the brown plate special

Recently, the House Health Care Committee passed a health care bill that raised $52 million in new revenue to pay for an array of reforms, including better Medicaid reimbursement for providers and more premium support for the working poor. It proposed raising the revenue through a payroll tax and a sugar-sweetened beverage tax.

Then it went to the Ways and Means Committee, which couldn’t agree on either tax. Technically they have yet to agree, but they did send guidance to the Health Care Committee that it should craft a plan requiring no more than $20 million a year. Ways and Means is reportedly moving toward a smaller version of the beverage tax to raise that money, although nothing is final.

Well, as one of my childhood heroes, Detroit Lions great Joe Schmidt, says, “Life is a shit sandwich, and every day you take another bite.” When the Health Care Committee reconvened this morning with that guidance in mind, they looked like they’d been served the Brown Plate Special. Glum faces all around. As committee chair BIll Lippert said, tongue slightly in cheek, “We can’t do all that we have to do.”

Committee members had no clear idea how to proceed. There were widely varying ideas. Anytime a specific cut of any size was suggested, sound and reasonable objections were voiced.

When they looked at the overall picture, some members wanted to make big cuts here and hold harmless there; but they all had different heres and theres.

At the end of a necessarily brief discussion (before the House convened for the day), Lippert thanked everyone for their input and said he would try to put together a proposal for futther discussion. And he noted that the committee would need to adopt some kind of bill by the end of the day tomorrow. He didn’t sound very happy.

Whatever Health Care comes up with, it’s likely to face the ax down the road. It’s still unclear whether Ways and Means can pass the reduced beverage tax, to say nothing of its fate in the full House and Senate. If I were a betting man, I’d say any new health care initiatives are going to be whittled down to nothing, or nearly so.

Our Leaders will plead fiscal responsibility in tough times, and perhaps start looking for a bone to throw to disaffected liberals.

House Ways and Means at impasse

This afternoon, the House Ways and Means Committee was scheduled to discuss the health care bill. You know, the one with the two-tax solution: the .3% payroll tax and the sugar-sweetened beverage tax.

Well, it didn’t happen.

The committee took testimony in the morning. But after lunch, members did not reassemble. At one point, committee chair Janet Ancel entered the Ways and Means room; I asked her what the plan was.

I don’t have her exact words, but here’s the gist. They’d heard from all the witnesses, but the committee had stalled out on the two tax provisions. Neither tax would get majority support in the committee, if she held votes today. So, no votes.

No witnesses left. (She jokingly asked me if I’d like to testify.) And apparently she feels that more discussion or debate wouldn’t change any minds.

Welp, without those two tax provisions, there’ll hardly be any money for closing the Medicaid gap or any of the other improvements adopted by the House Health Care Committee.

Ancel had no idea what would happen next, or when it might happen.

Of course, either tax (or both) could be added back at a later point. But if Ways and Means can’t agree on a funding mechanism, it’s  certainly a discouraging sign for those of us hoping to redeem a few scraps of the lost promise of single payer health care.

For health care expansion and SSBT, a long road ahead

Last week brought some relatively cheery news for fans of better access to health care and of the sugar-sweetened beverage tax. The House Health Care Committee passed a fairly wide-ranging bill that would help close the Medicaid gap, provide more assistance to working-class Vermonters seeking health insurance and encourage more primary care providers, among other things. To pay for all that, the Committee opted for a two-pronged approach: the revised 0.3% payroll tax proposed by Gov. Shumlin, plus the two-cents-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

A good package, a nice bill. But is it a meaningful step, or simply a McGuffin? When you read between the lines of Committee chair Bill Lippert’s statement, and see the slightly shopworn look on his face, well, you start thinking the latter.

I have no illusions that what we propose will be a final product at the end of the session, but it was our responsibility… to identify and articulate priorities that could make a difference now and could be investments for the future, even in a time of tight budgetary constraints.

Glass half full, or glass half empty? I hear a guy resigning himself to the inevitable disembowelment of his bill.

Enough inference. The next stop is the Ways and Means Committee, where opinion is split on the SSBT and there’s widespread opposition to the payroll tax. After that, well, there’s a lot of room for pessimism.

There’s little appetite for raising taxes in Montpelier — or should I say “raising more taxes,” since tax increases will almost certainly be part of a budget-balancing deal. (Front runner: Ways and Means chair Janet Ancel’s plan to cap itemized deductions at 2.5 times the standard deduction.) There’s also the EPA-mandated Lake Champlain cleanup that needs funding. In this climate, it’ll be hard to justify funding the health care package as well.

Regarding the SSBT specifically, Governor Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith don’t like it. Really, there aren’t many real fans; some just see it as the least bad option. Most lawmakers seem allergic to the payroll tax, even in reduced form. But let’s say, just for the heck of it, that the Health Care Committee’s bill passes the House. What awaits in the Senate, that notorious den of centrism where liberal House bills go to die?

“I wouldn’t predict what a vote today would be,” says Senate Finance Committee chair Tim Ashe (more D and less P with each passing day). “I’d say they both start in difficult places in terms of a Senate vote. Individual committees may be more or less favorable, but in the whole Senate, both would struggle to pass at this time.”

Gulp. Well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. So I guess that leaves us with no money for enhancing our partially-fixed health care system?

“That’s an open question,” says Ashe. “There are the resources to pay for new initiatives or increased support for existing initiatives can come from existing sources or new revenues.”

Oh really? You’ve found a pot of money somewhere?

“I’ll mention just one resource. …This year, Vermonters without insurance are going to ship about six million bucks to the federal government in a penalty. Next year that money goes up to 12 to 14 because the penalty basically doubles.

“So 23,000 Vermonters will be shipping all that money to Washington, and they will get nothing for it. Question is, is there a way to help them NOT send the money to Washington and get nothing for it, but to keep the dollars here and give them something for it? I don’t know what the answer to that is, [but] it makes you scratch your head and say, ‘Well, jeez, wouldn’t it be easier if they just had insurance here?'”

Nice to see the Senator thinking outside the box, BUT… he himself admits he doesn’t know the answer to that. And even if we could somehow funnel the penalty money into health insurance, we’re talking “about six million bucks” this year and 12 mill the year after that. That’s a far cry from the Health Care Committee’s $70 million a year.

Six million, or even 12, isn’t going to buy you a whole lot of improvement. The Medicaid gap would remain painfully wide, and good-quality insurance would remain out of reach for many working Vermonters.

But that’s the kind of year we’ve got. Best to ratchet down expectations.

Of course, we’re now looking at budget gaps in the $50 million range for each of the following two years. Substantial health care reform keeps receding further over the horizon. And universal access? Rapidly approaching pipe dream territory.

The Good Ship Two-Tax leaves the harbor

“Yes.”

That’s the one-word answer I got from House Health Care Committee chair Bill Lippert (D-’Burbs). The question? Did he consult with Speaker Shap Smith and Governor Shumlin before proposing a two-tax approach to funding health care?

As you may have heard, Lippert’s committee yesterday passed a health care bill including a .3% payroll tax and a two-cents-per-ounce sugar-sweetened beverage tax. Thus confounding the predictions of low-budget Vermont Political Observers (ahem) who thought the introduction of the lower payroll tax might be the death knell for the beverage tax.

Asked to elaborate on his one-word revelation, Lippert unsurprisingly didn’t offer much:

“…there are different points of view on different parts of the bill. That’s all I can say, really. The Governor’s made clear that he’s a fan of the payroll tax and not a fan of the sugar sweetened beverage tax.”

Of course, in this budgetary environment, the governor’s going to wind up accepting some items he’s “not a fan of.”

On the other hand, the Health Care Committee is a relatively safe harbor for the beverage tax; it approved the tax last time around, only to see it run aground in Ways and Means. So, will it be smooth sailing for the committee’s bill this year?

Nah.

“Sail through? No, it will not sail through. There are waves and shoals and whatever metaphor you want to use. I’m looking forward to it not being a shipwreck.”

At that point, we abandoned the metaphor. Point being, Lippert has no illusions about the permanence of the vessel — oops — he’s built.

He makes a good case for it, from a liberal point of view. Since the Governor reduced his payroll tax plan, the combo tax was an alternative way to fund an array of health care reforms aimed at broadening access, reducing the uninsured, encouraging expansion of primary care offerings, and further bending the cost curve.

The bill would improve available subsidies in the health care exchange for those making between 133% and 300% of the federal poverty level. Even with current subsidies, many of the working poor can’t afford health insurance. Or their coverage has such high out-of-pocket costs that they can’t afford to use it. Kind of defeats the purpose of health insurance, no?

The sugar-sweetened beverage tax, Lippertays, makes sense as a funding source for health care because it “raises revenue, but is also a way to invest in longer-term behavioral changes and better health.”

Of course, he acknowledges diverse opinions about the beverage tax, even on his own committee, and expects more of the same going forward:

I have no illusions that what we propose will be a final product at the end of the session, but it was our responsibility, and I was given the direction, to work with the committee to identify and articulate priorities that could make a difference now and could be investments for the future, even in a time of tight budgetary constraints. We may have exceeded that, but we did our best.

A number of us came into this session saying, we’re not going to be able to move forward on the universal access through single payer, but there is still reason for us to move forward in a significant way in health care.

Moving forward “in a significant way” required more revenue than the Governor’s reduced payroll tax would provide. Problem is, there’s pretty broad disagreement on the relative merits of the payroll tax and the beverage tax — across party lines. At this point, there’s no consensus on how to pay for health care reforms, or how much to pay. The likeliest outcome: a lot of the reform provisions will wind up on the cutting-room floor as legislative compromises eat away at the Health Care Committee’s revenue proposals.

Big Beverage’s Hired Guns pt. 2: Mountain Dew wishes and Twinkie dreams

“When you work in this building long enough, you notice things like thread count.”              — Anonymous Statehouse scribe

The House Ways and Means Committee heard a full morning’s worth of testimony today on the proposed sugar-sweetened beverage tax. The most interesting witness, not in a good way, was one Kevin Dietly of Massachusetts-based Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants, speaking on behalf of the beverage industry. He definitely had the fineest suit in the room, not to mention bright pearly-white teeth. (Oh, and a Google search indicates that he’s a member of the Chautauqua Yacht Club. Must be nice.)

And he acknowledged, in answer to a question from the committee, that he has represented the food and beverage industries since 1986.

That’s a long time serving the same paymasters.

Dietly managed to actually travel to Montpelier, unlike his fellow soulless industry flack Lisa Katic, discussed previously. I don’t imagine it was a sacrifice for ol’ Kev, since he presumably drew full expenses and a fat hourly rate for his visit to Montpelier. (He stuck around for the full morning, billable to “Stop The Vermont Beverage Tax.”)

(This wasn’t his first trip to the Statehouse; in 2013 he testified for the beverage industry against a proposed expansion of Vermont’s Bottle Bill. Surprise, surprise.)

His testimony was a carefully-crafted web of industry-friendly statistics and studies, plus back-handed dismissals of the academic experts who’d preceded him in the witness chair. You know, the economists, doctors, public health experts and nutritionists who have consistently found that…

— Sugar-sweetened beverages are a scourge of the American diet, leading to high rates of obesity, diabetes, and other severe illnesses.

— Taxing a specific commodity invariably leads to lower consumption.

— Lowering consumption of sugary drinks will have a beneficial impact on public health and public-sector healthcare spending.

— There’s no evidence of a significant “border effect”; in fact, there’s quite a bit of evidence that any “border effect” would be minimal or nonexistent.

— The impact on employment is neutral to mildly positive. Consumption of sugary drinks goes down, but people buy other stuff instead.  The equation balances out. Plus, the tax revenue funds jobs in government or the healthcare sector.

Pish-tosh, said Dietly, slamming “academics” who live in “a different world,” a “theoretical world.” When they retreat to their “ivory towers, things get a little wacky.”

Welp, so much for scientific research. Can’t trust anything they say.

As for Mr. Dietly, when you Google his name you get a massive quantity of testimony before various legislative bodies around the country on behalf of the food and beverage industries. Here’s a sampling of The Expensive Wisdom of Kevin Dietly:

He spoke to a New York Senate committee in 2010 in opposition to a proposed beverage tax. His arguments were essentially the same, then and now: a beverage tax would have disastrous economic consequences (but he entirely leaves out the fact that consumers will substitute other items for taxed beverages, thus mitigating the dreaded financial and employment impact), and it wouldn’t have any effect on public health (carefully selected statistics cited, inconvenient ones waved away).

In 2012, California voters faced a ballot measure to require labeling of foods that contain GMOs. (The measure was defeated after a very costly “No” campaign bankrolled by Big Food.) And oh looky here: Kevin Dietly was a hireling of the “No” campaign, and offered a very high estimate of the cost of GMO labeling — as much as $400 per year for each California household. His estimate was based on the assumption that producers would universally switch to costlier ingredients in order to avoid the GMO label (a dubious assumption at best), although he admitted that “We certainly don’t know what will happen.”

Speaking to Nevada lawmakers in 2011 on the subject of recycling and bottle deposits, Dietly positioned the beverage industry as having been “among the leading packaging innovators of the past 100 years,” and touted the industry as supporting a range of programs “to promote recycling.” And then he makes forceful arguments against deposit laws. If you read through his testimony, there are striking parallels in method, style, and type of argument with today’s testimony against the beverage tax.

In 2014 he addressed Connecticut lawmakers about a proposal to expand the state’s bottle bill. He asserts that it would impose unbearable costs on manufacturers and retailers, and had the audacity to depict the deposit/refund system as “counter to the goals of sustainable recycling and materials management.”

In 2002 he spoke before a U.S. Senate committee (chaired by Jim Jeffords) which was considering a “Beverage Producer Responsibility Act.” The concept of “producer responsiblity” has been a mainstay of advancement in environmental law; in Germany, for instance, producers have cradle-to-grave responsibility for their products — from bottles to automobiles. Its economy seems to be getting along just fine, no?

But according to Dietly, such an act would have been costly to consumers and businesses, and had little or no environmental benefit. Hmm, if he thinks there’s a disconnect between the Ivory Tower and reality, I sense a greater disconnect between industry-funded experts and reality.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Kevin Dietly is a well-traveled, amply-compensated spokesflack for the beverage industry, fighting for its interests in legislative halls around the country. His testimony should be judged accordingly.

Beverage tax pipped at the post?

This should have been a good day for the sugar-sweetened beverage tax. State lawmakers were unconvinced by Governor Shumlin’s proposed payroll tax, and many had turned to the beverage tax as a way to help close the Medicaid cost gap. Today, the House Ways and Means Committee is considering the beverage tax, and advocates on both sides are pointing to this hearing as a key moment.

(Last year, the beverage tax passed the House Health Care Committee but died on a close vote in Ways and Means. Things were looking better for the tax this year.)

But wait, what’s this? Shumlin’s posse has come riding over the hill with a revised payroll tax plan that, according to VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld, “looks to have new life” in the Health Care Committee. Fortuitous timing, neh?

The new plan is friendlier to business, cutting the payroll tax rate in half and eliminating an employer assessment on businesses that don’t offer health insurance to their workers.

Chief of Health Care Reform Lawrence Miller says the smaller tax would generate enough money to pay for Shumlin’s plan to close the Medicaid gap. Which makes me wonder how he can now accomplish this with less than half the revenue of his original plan. What got cut?

We’ll find out soon enough, as the Governor’s new plan gets an airing in legislative committees. But its very introduction may well be enough to throw the beverage tax, once again, into the dumpster.

Big Beverage can afford the very best hired guns

Almost two weeks ago (Feb. 26, to be precise), the House Health Care Committee held a hearing on the health impacts of sugar-sweetened beverages. There was an interesting name on the guest list: Lisa Katic, registered dietician.

Registered dietician speaking on behalf of the American Beverage Association, the trade group that includes Coke, Pepsi, and other mass-market sugar peddlers.

Seems like an odd juxtaposition: a professional dietician talking up sugary beverages.

Sold my soul for a Beltway consultancy.

Sold my soul for a Beltway consultancy.

Which led me to take a closer look at Lisa Katic. Basically, she’s the #1 dietician-for-pay for the food industry. She has her own DC-based consultancy firm, and her clients include the American Beverage Association, the Snack Food Association, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Before she hung out her own shingle, she was on staff at some of the largest Big Food interest groups in the country. In short, she’s made a very lucrative career out of selling her professional credential to the highest bidders.

Further down the page, I’ll tell you about a fascinating talk she gave in 2009 before an industry group. But first, her testimony to our humble legislative committee, delivered by speakerphone.

Her carefully curated pitch: Obesity and diabetes need to be addressed, but taxing a single class of food will do nothing to prevent the twin scourges of the American way of eating. Which ignores a growing body of evidence that beverage taxes do, indeed, have a pronounced and immediate impact on consumption. See, for example, the first year’s returns from a beverage tax imposed in early 2014 by the Mexican government. (Katic brushed off a question about Mexico’s experience, claiming not to have “seen specific data.”)

Not to mention the obvious effects of tobacco taxes: price goes up, consumption goes down. It’s a pretty clear and direct link.

Her next pitch: Sugar-sweetened beverages are one small part of the problem, accounting for “only six percent of the calories in our diet.” Which may be true, but I’ll bet you dollars to (ahem) donuts that sugary drinks would figure much more prominently in the diets of our overweight population.

Katic also parroted the party line in saying that the real problem is the “severe imbalance between calories consumed and physical activity.” This is straight out of Big Beverage’s PR strategy. See its “Mixify” campaign, which touts a balanced approach to life including the occasional shot of sugary drinks. And which is full of buzzwords aimed at millennials: “the deets,” “#Realtalk,” “emoji,” “that bod of yours,” Mixify is your “balance wingman.”

Her point is true, but she undercuts her own argument by saying that a modest reduction in calorie intake, plus more activity, can make for a healthy lifestyle. For sure. But the flip side is that cutting out the soft drinks would have a modest effect per day and a massive impact over time.

Immediately following Katic’s testimony, the committee heard from Kelly Brownell, one of the nation’s leading experts on the subject, a former Yale prof who’s now a dean at Duke University. He hadn’t heard Katic, but he pretty much knocked her “facts” into the nearest trash bin. He pointed to “very strong scientific evidence tying added sugars to obesity and diabetes.” He said a beverage tax “makes all the sense in the world,” because “the largest percentage of added sugar comes from sugar-sweetened beverages.”

In other words, it might be only six percent, but that’s a huge part of the problem and a very simple fix.

Brownell also testified about research indicating that sugar may have the same effect on the brain as “traditional substances of abuse,” triggering increased tolerance and need for sugar, plus withdrawal symptoms.

And he cited economic projections showing that an increase in beverage prices would, indeed, reduce consumption.

And now, let’s close the Katic/Brownell circle.

In 2009, Lisa Katic gave a talk to the National Institute of Animal Agriculture, a subset of Big Agriculture. She was there to provide an overview — a sort of “know your enemy” briefing — of the top activists opposing the interests of Big Food. (Audio of her talk can be found on Swinecast, an appropriately named podcast service of the pork industry.)

One of her targets was Kelly Brownell. She said he’d been “instrumental… in drawing parallels between the food industry and the tobacco industry” in their response to rising health concerns. Deny, delay, and deflect, basically.

In discussing Brownell, Katic told her Big Ag audience that “there are people who want nothing more than to line up CEOs of food companies or commodity groups and haul them in front of Congress and be able to grill them like they did with the tobacco companies.” And, she concluded, “Kelly Brownell is one of those people.”

Which, in her mind, is a bad thing. You can draw your own conclusions.

Katic’s other targets included Marion Nestle, Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and Eric Schlosser. She lamented the fact that Schlosser’s book “Fast Food Nation” is required reading in some college courses, “which is a problem.” In discussing Waters, she mispronounced the name of Waters’ groundbreaking restaurant — “Chez Panay.” And she even slammed the American Dietetic Association; of one of its subgroups, she said, “They’re not always talking about sound science.”

Katic’s definition of “sound science” is analogous to that of climate-change deniers. Nothing that threatens her clients’ interests is absolutely proven, the real problem lies elsewhere. She’s smart enough to acknowledge problems with the American diet, but she’s bought and paid for enough to try to deflect attention elsewhere.

When Katic testified before the Health Care Committee, she was billed as a representative of the American Beverage Association. But committee members seemed unaware of the depth of her ties to Big Food, or her career-long track record of defending the interests of her paymasters. She is a very well compensated mouthpiece for Big Food, Big Beverage, Big Snack, and Big Agriculture, and her testimony should be evaluated in that light.

The Bag Man carries a heavy load

Listening to Jim Harrison on VPR’s Vermont Edition last Friday led me to one inescapable conclusion: as a public debater, he makes a mighty fine bagman.

Harrison, for those with a bliss-inducing level of ignorance about Statehouse matters, is one of the most effective lobbyists in Montpelier. Harrison heads the Vermont Retail & Grocers Association, and his current bête noire is the proposed two-cents-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

The recommended daily allotment of sugar is 8 teaspoons for a male adult, 6 for a female adult, and 2-3 for a child.

The recommended daily allotment of sugar is 8 teaspoons for a male adult, 6 for a female adult, and 2-3 for a child. So go ahead, kids: Enjoy your daily two ounces of Coke!

Harrison appeared on VPR with the chief pro-tax lobbyist, Anthony Iarrapino of the Alliance for a Healthier Vermont. Harrison’s presentation was pretty much all over the place: he’d shift from one prehashed talking point to another with not even an attempt at segue, he pulled trusty (and rusty) anecdotes out of his back pocket; he’d throw multiple talking points into a single answer, making it impossible to examine them closely. His overall approach could be summarized as, “Throw everything at the wall and hope something sticks.”

If you summed up all his various statements, it’d go something like this:

— The tax will do nothing to change behavior.

— The tax would be the death knell for countless independent businesses.

— Soda consumption is already trending downward, so we don’t need a tax.

— The tax won’t work because people will just shop where the beverages are cheaper (i.e. New Hampshire).

— There is “no comparison” between tobacco and sugary drinks. So the success of the tobacco tax at reducing smoking says nothing about the potential impact of a beverage tax.

Is your head swimming from all the contradictions? It should be. But I feel for Harrison, because he’s basically defending the indefensible: the right to sell grossly unhealthy drinks at the lowest possible price. When, in reality, sugary beverages are artificially low in price because the corn and sugar industries benefit vastly from federal handouts and favorable tax policy.

Harrison’s favorite argument boils down to “We’ve got to compete with New Hampshire.” There’s so much to say about that old canard, I’m going to tackle it in a separate post. For now, let’s focus on Harrison’s other recurring theme: It Won’t Work.

“This is a social experiment. No other state has done anything like this.” True enough, but we do happen to have a wonderful example of a sugary-beverage tax at work. On January 1, 2014, Mexico imposed a one-peso-per-liter tax (about 7 cents) on sugary drinks. The move came in response to rapidly climbing rates of obesity and diabetes. The results? A University of North Carolina researcher is working with Mexican officials on that question, and here’s what they found:

… preliminary results show that during the first three months of 2014, purchases of sodas and other taxed beverages declined by 10 percent compared to the same time period last year.

Meanwhile purchases of untaxed drinks, like 100 percent fruit juice and milk, went up 7 percent, and purchases of bottled water went up 13 percent.

If that’s not enough, the Wall Street Journal reports that a survey of Mexicans found that they are drinking fewer soft drinks, and are more aware of the link between sugary beverages and health problems since the tax was imposed. Another survey indicated that more than half of all Mexicans had cut back on sugary drinks.

Also, Coca-Cola’s biggest Mexican bottler reported a 6.4% sales drop in the first half of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013.

Those are impressive results for the early days of a relatively small tax. Vermont’s would be eight times as large. Imagine the impact it would have on sales of sugary drinks. (Again, I’ll deal with the cross-border argument in a later post.)

As for the comparison with the tobacco tax, Harrison really didn’t have an answer. The tobacco tax has, indeed, helped to drive down smoking rates. He didn’t try to argue that point; he simply bristled at the notion that tobacco and sugary drinks are in the same category.

Well, obviously, they’re not. They’re closer than Harrison would like to admit, but tobacco is clearly a bigger health threat. However, the real comparison isn’t “how bad is it for you?” It’s “Will a tax reduce demand?” On that question, the success of the tobacco tax is strong evidence that a beverage tax will work. Just in case Mexico isn’t enough for you.

Whenever Harrison is fighting a fee, tax, or regulation, he brings out the mom-and-pop types who are, as he puts it, constantly teetering on the brink of oblivion. “Most of our members are smaller, independent stores,” he says. That’s true if you count every store as one. But if you count total sales, the supermarket and megamart chains far outweigh the small independents.

And it’s not the moms and pops who put up the $600,000-plus spent on defeating a sugary-beverage tax in 2013, and are spending hundreds of thousands more this year. No, that money comes from Big Retail and Big Beverage. The moms and pops are politically convenient props.

Harrison also cited some statistics showing that soda sales have trended downward in recent years, and used that fact to question the link between sugary drinks and rising rates of obesity and diabetes. The problem there is, not all sodas are sugary (DIet Coke, et al.) and not all sugary drinks are sodas. And while it’s true that soda sales are dropping, sales of non-carbonated sugary drinks are through the roof: energy drinks, sports drinks, “juice” drinks containing very little juice, sweetened iced tea, etc.  It’s not just soda that represents a public-health threat; it’s the vast cornucopia of sugar-laden beverages on the market.

There were many more points in Harrison’s presentation. Each of them sound plausible when presented in a rapid blur of talking points, but all are full of holes when inspected more closely.

Coming soon to this space: “The New Hampshire Chimera.”