Whether you call it soda, pop or Coke, your favorite soft drinks will soon cost you more inside the District. The D.C. Council has slapped a 6 percent city sales tax on all artificially and sugar-sweetened beverages, including sports drinks, sodas and energy drinks. Doing so has placed an unnecessary burden on consumers and business owners still riding out the waves of the recession.

The tax, which takes effect Oct. 1, is predicted to raise $7.92 million annually. The revenue will be funneled directly to public school health initiatives as part of the D.C. Healthy Schools Act of 2010. Eight-ounce cans of soda will cost about six cents more, and two-liter bottles will see an average price increase of 12 cents. Expected to fully fund the Healthy Schools Act, tax revenue will support school gardens, physical fitness programs and healthy lunch options in school cafeterias.

With the nationwide obesity epidemic ballooning, the tax and the Healthy Schools Act are worthy efforts. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 20 percent tax on caloric soft drinks could result in a nationwide average weight loss of almost five pounds per person, per year. Moreover, the tax legislation carries with it requirements for physical education that city schools must fulfill. The Healthy Schools Act will not add any pounds to the District’s budget deficit, to boot.

Despite good intentions, this sin tax came at the wrong time. Unemployment in D.C. hovers at 10.5 percent, despite the White House’s insistence that this summer was the “summer of recovery.” Adding a 6 percent tax to staple products on every family’s grocery list will strain many disposable income budgets that are already stretched thin.

Consumers won’t be the only parties affected, with local businesses likely to feel the burn of the new tax. Neighborhood stores like Wisemiller’s Deli and Towne Liquor have banded with others in denouncing this soda tax, decrying predicted falls in profits as a result of altered consumer preferences.

In its reach, the sales tax is flawed, too. Since it applies to zero-calorie and diet drinks as well as sugary beverages, the overall aim of the measure is fairly indiscriminate. If the goal of the tax, as some claim, is to reduce consumption of harmful calorie-filled sodas, the price hike unfairly hits responsible consumers in the process.

Rather than looking for ways to pay for greater social programs, the D.C. Council should launch a more proactive effort to restore the District’s once-stable financial situation. Raising taxes to pay for social programs glosses over the real concern of a rising structural deficit and shrinking city savings.

Admirable in the midst of hard times, it seems some businesses have their customers in mind. The Corp has decided to absorb the cost of this tax, choosing to keep its prices on affected items the same as they were last year. Sixteen-ounce sodas will continue to ring up at $1 despite a six-cent cut in the student-run company’s profit. Though The Corp has taken steps to ensure the Hilltop doesn’t feel the brunt of an untimely and indiscriminate tax, much of D.C. will not be so fortunate.”

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