Counselors Agree to Draft Tax Referendum for 2013 Ballot
TELLURIDE - Elisa Marie Overall, assistant director of the Physical Education Program, a grant-funded program that educates Telluride and Norwood K-12 students on healthy diet and lifestyle decisions, introduced a proposal to tax sugary drinks sold in Telluride at the Town Council meeting Tuesday. The proposal seemed to gain traction with members of council during the work session.
Overall proposed a one-cent tax per ounce tax on each sugary beverage sold in Telluride. Her proposed list of drinks includes sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks and canned and bottled teas and coffees.
The presentation garnered support from many of the nodding council members. Community members attending the council work session offered Overall’s proposal a generous round of applause after her closing remarks. After the display of audience approval, council agreed to move forward with drafting a tax referendum for the November 2013 ballot.
Overall conservatively estimates the new tax would generate around $125,000, and would provide hundreds of San Miguel County children with scholarships and educational programs designed to reinforce the importance of healthy eating and lifestyle choices.
Her presentation cited a collection of federally mandated data from the Telluride School District, in an effort to dispel a common myth that Telluride’s youth are fit and active. Underscoring the figure that a growing number of Telluride children are overweight and that Colorado has the second-fastest growing rates of childhood obesity in the nation, Overall warned that this trend was unlikely to change without further spending on education programs.
“These data show that our kids, despite our misguided assumptions, are on the same dismal health trajectory as the rest of the nation,” she said.
Overall has targeted the taxation because she believes the consumption of sugary beverages directly contributes to the staggering obesity rates of children in the United States. “Liquid sugar, unlike dry sugar, is absorbed faster through the bloodstream and eventually becomes fat deposits. Habitual consumption of liquid sugar is shown to cause cirrhosis of the liver.”
While similar proposals have been introduced in towns across the nation, no town has successfully passed such a tax, Overall said. She mentioned efforts by industry lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C. and aggressive marketing and advertising campaigns from beverage manufacturers as significant causes behind the nationwide failure to tax sugary drinks.
The town of Richmond, Calif., brought a similar tax referendum to public vote in 2012. Enjoying a community approval rating of 60 percent, the measure was defeated after beverage industry groups poured $2.5 million into direct contributions to retailers, schools, churches and other community centers, as well as an additional $1.5 million into advertising.
“Telluride has a unique advantage over other American towns. It has scores of socially minded, concerned voters. It is uniquely introspective and, in turn, uniquely un-bribeable.”
While the new tax was proposed to the council just this week, Overall mentioned she has already been contacted by a member of the national press due to the controversial nature of the proposal. She expects special interest and lobbying groups to target and attempt to persuade Telluride voters and policymakers to vote against the tax, similar to efforts made in Richmond.
If the referendum passes in November, Telluride would set a state and national precedent that could attract considerable attention.
A recent example of government attempts to curb the American consumption of sugary drinks came earlier this year, when New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed an outright citywide ban on the sale of sugary drinks served in containers larger than 16 oz.
Bloomberg’s controversial ban generated nationwide media attention and attracted the efforts of industry groups in New York and Washington D.C. to fight the divisive ban. Bloomberg asserted that a ban of such drinks could decrease New York’s growing obesity rates, as well as serve as an example of what executive power could do to confront a vital issue in American health care.
The New York State Supreme Court ultimately dealt a blow to the Bloomberg administration by invalidating the ban, sending the proposal instead to the city’s Board of Health, whose panel members were Bloomberg appointees.