ASUC bill urges support for citywide soda tax to promote healthier community

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Taking a step forward in a campuswide campaign for greater health awareness, the ASUC Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday night in support of implementing a soda tax to raise money for health services on campus and in the community.

The passage of the bill reflects the senate’s support of a soda tax on the city’s ballot in November while promoting health education on campus through ongoing conversations with the university. The proposed soda tax, which the bill recommends the campus implement, would tax sugar-sweetened beverage distributors, theoretically increasing the price of soda on campus.

Currently, the city is pursuing the placement of a similar soda tax on its ballot to promote health education, having recently learned through a citywide survey that many Berkeley residents would support such a tax.

However, the city’s tax wouldn’t affect the campus, which is under the auspices of the UC regents. The campus is exempt from any tax the city passes, according to External Affairs Vice President Safeena Mecklai.

At the beginning of the semester, the EAVP’s office released a survey to the campus asking students if they would support or oppose such a tax. The survey, which is still being administered, has received more than 100 responses. So far, responses to the tax are favorable.

If the campus were interested in a similar tax law, students and ASUC senators would need to pressure administrators into implementing a soda tax on distributors on campus.

In 2011, the ASUC Senate launched a referendum to try to phase out the use of bottled water on campus, an initiative that ultimately lost its momentum as it reached UC administrators.

CalSERVE Senator Caitlin Quinn, who co-authored the bill, noted that while beginning the conversation is important, actually negotiating the terms of the tax on campus could be problematic.

“We have a very tight-knit relationship with soda companies on campus. With no funding from the state and with tuition as high as it is, we look into corporate sponsors,” Quinn said, mentioning that the campus has a contract with Pepsi.

According to Mecklai, a soda tax would serve a greater purpose than just disincentivizing the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages. Should the tax be placed on the ballot, if at all, as a specific tax with targeted funds, the added revenue the city would get from the tax money would go toward health initiatives in Berkeley, namely addressing the city’s health inequities.

“We have a lot of incredible health programs that are trying to alleviate these inequities, but they’re underfunded,” Mecklai said. “A soda tax could work to fund these programs and mitigate some of those inequities right now.”

Contact Bo Kovitz at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @beau_etc.