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Sacrificing soda tax to protect ‘mother’s milk’ of politics
Dennis Wyatt

It’s come down to this.

A coalition of businesses trying to advocate a position in a legal manner is essentially being called extortionists because they outmaneuvered politicians who favor others special interest groups that they have anointed as morally superior.

State Sen. Scott Wiener called a proposal by the soda industry for a state imposed 12-year moratorium on local cities being able to tax soda or food sales in exchange for dropping a proposed ballot initiative that would raise the threshold for approval of new local taxes to two thirds a “ransom note.”

Let’s call it what it really is — hardball politics.

It is something Wiener does all the time. Of course he doesn’t see it that way because all of his views are righteous.

So why did the California Legislature capitulate so rapidly on the bill that was introduced over the weekend and signed into law by Thursday, JUne 28?

The answer is simple. They are politicians and not wide-eyes innocents as Weiner et al like to portray themselves.

There’s trouble brewing in River City. They have poked the proverbial beehive filled with taxpayers one too many times to get honey. They’ve now provoked an angry swarm of anti-tax voters ready to make a beeline to the voting booth to repeal the gas tax increase. At the moment every poll shows it passing.

Having an initiative on the same ballot to limit the ability of government at any level to increase taxes is akin to dipping your foot into a pool filled to the brim with piranhas. It doesn’t take a political consultant with a BS degree to tell you what is going to happen.

If Weiner & Co. are on the right side of political morality they should have held their ground and said see you in November. But that would ignore the truth.

Polling data and common sense suggests Californians of all political persuasions and income levels are becoming a tad resistant to paying more taxes.

Soda taxes are among the subset of taxes that basically prey on the weak. They cull the herd separating the vulnerable from others. Those that engage in the sin du jour — in this case a Super Big Gulp — are essentially stoned with new taxes by those who believe they are superior because they sip white wine instead.

The fair taxes are ones everybody pays. Sales tax on consumption is a prime example.

The new law leaves soda taxes already in place in Berkeley, Richmond, Oakland, and San Francisco intact.

If the ability to tax soda drinkers is a high moral issue for lawmakers they showed how deep their convictions really are.

The problem with sin taxes is they are justified by the perceived sin.

Making it worse is some sins are more politically correct than others. Legalized marijuana sales weren’t even five months old when a push started in the California Legislature to lower taxes on pot arguing they were hurting legal marijuana growing business.

That means it is OK to hurt the soda industry and the people who consume what we must assume is pure poison but not pot growers and the miracle elixir they produce.

It’s all politics. But most of those who pledge allegiance to one side of the aisle or the other aren’t so self-righteous that they will sacrifice their political hide when it comes to facing the wrath of angry taxpayers who tend to become angry voters.

We are told by the special interest groups that lost — primarily those organizations promoting health-related issues — that the legislature has now taken away the most effective tool at discouraging people from drinking soda, sweetened coffee, and sports drinks.

So what are we talking about — a tax to provide basic government services or a punitive social engineering measure by government?

It is disingenuous for Weiner or any politician to cry foul when power politics are used successfully against them or their agenda especially when they play hardball as well.

Of course it’s different when you play power politics because you are the good guy and everyone else is evil.

That said, the American Beverage Association exposed the Achilles’ heel of the California Legislature which is the undivided wrath of taxpayers.

The message is clear. Anyone wanting to go for what Weiner has characterized in his rhetoric as essentially a nuclear option just needs to push a statewide ballot measure raising the threshold for approval of local taxes to two thirds.

It could cripple local government but what it really would do is force cities back to the basics of just trying to deliver essential services that would play havoc with a number of cities primarily in the Bay Area and Los Angeles Basin that have gone way beyond that concept. That in turn would put real pressure on Sacramento to pick up the slack that would imperil a multitude of funding for special interest endeavors from tax credits and tax cuts that support anointed concerns such as Tesla to $9 million in tax funding for Cheech’s Los Angeles museum that are secured not at the ballot box but by playing ball with the majority of 120 elected officials in Sacramento.

The favorite beverage of those 120 chosen is not soda.

The late Big Daddy Jesse Unruh called it when he declared, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”

Allowing the soda beverage industry’s initiative to proceed would have set in motion events that would have led to the proverbial cow running dry in Sacramento.

Weiner and others should save their rage. Their colleagues protected their power by sacrificing city soda taxes for 12 years.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.