Lawmakers propose junk food tax

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(Host) The cost of a bottle of soda would go up, under a plan proposed by a group of lawmakers.

They want to help close the state’s budget gap by imposing a sales tax on soda and other beverages that contain a lot of sugar.

But the Vermont Grocers’ Association is strongly opposed to the bill.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Chester Rep. Kathy Pellett says the idea of taxing soda came to her when she realized that more than 30 states currently tax soda or candy.

Pellett says it’s likely that the state will need some additional revenue to meet its budget challenges this year and she thinks this tax makes a lot of sense:

(Pellett) "My feeling was we just have to look outside the box and non traditional ways and raising a tax on something like soda a non essential item that you really don’t have to have."

There are estimates that a soda tax could raise several million dollars a year and this number could grow to between 5 and 10 million dollars if candy and other junk food were included in the legislation.

Pellett says it would be fine with her to expand the bill:

(Pellett) "I thought that might be going too far people wouldn’t be willing to accept it and as I’ve seen how legislation goes sometimes it’s better to start off smaller and it can grow and quite frankly if this is an idea that the Ways and Means committee will take up somebody else may want to expand it to include other items as well and I know it will probably will be a difficult sell because of the border states with New Hampshire not having any sales tax and that’s always an issue."

That concern is a major problem for Marty Beattie – he’s the owner of Marty’s One Stop in Danville:

(Beattie) "We’re seeing more and more people that come into Vermont traveling there’s a campground right beside my store and they’re coming in and they’re making their purchases before they come to Vermont and they’re pulling in to Shaw’s in Littleton mostly in New Hampshire where there’s no sales tax there’s no bottle redemption………it really puts us in a different playing field than the stores that are in New Hampshire."

Beattie says he’s also concerned that the legislation would tax beverages that contain a high sugar or artificial sugar content:

(Beattie) "They call it a soda tax but it’s actually a beverage tax and it depends on how the product is made actually items that were in your grocery department like 42 ounce cans of like Hi C juice that really don’t contain 50% juice those would be taxed."

The House Ways and Means committee is scheduled to take testimony on the bill later this week.

For VPRs News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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