The modest campaign for El Monte's Measure H, a proposal to add a penny-per-ounce tax to soda sales, is drowning in a deluge of ads paid for by the soft drink industry.
The American Beverage Association, which represents the soft drink industry, has spent some $1.3 million to oppose the tax issue the El Monte City Council placed on the Nov. 6 ballot in hopes of balancing the city budget and fund anti-crime and wellness program.
Mayor Andre Quintero said he expects more to be spent in the week remaining before the Nov. 6 election.
"They're spending it on everything," he said. "Every single imaginable tool you can imagine in a campaign arsenal, they have. They have paid walkers, paid callers, they've got a campaign manager, they've got billboards, signs, literature in the mail, polls, tracking polls."
Quintero proposed the tax and the City Council voted unanimously to put it on the ballot, but it faced a few early hurdles. A planning commissioner challenged the ballot title language with funding from the American Beverage Association and won a court order forcing it to be described as a tax rather than an anti-obesity measure. Only about $57,000 has been spent in favor of the tax.
The El Monte-South El Monte Chamber of Commerce board voted unanimously in opposition of the measure, said Executive Director Ken Rausch. The city already collects a one-half percent sales tax, and adding 12 cents to a can of soda, or $1.28 to a gallon of sweetened fruit drink or sports drink would send shoppers to stores in neighborhing cities, Rausch said. The city has not been specific enough about how the tax would be collected, he said, and it would place a logistical burden on stores to levy the tax on food products that are now untaxed.
The No on Measure H committee has mounted a multi-ethnic campaign to quash the tax. The campaign website has ads in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Chinese, each conveying the message that families can't afford to pay extra for popular drinks.
Quintero said some of the ads characterize Measure H as an attack on drinks popular among Latino and Asian consumers. "They would have you thinking that that horchata and boba teas are a cause of obesity," Quintero said.
The tax would raise between $3 and $7 million in new funding for El Monte emergency, anti-gang, anti-obesity and wellness services. A companion issue on the city ballot, Measure C, asks residents how they want the money spent, however, it is merely advisory.
The American Beverage Association's position says that taxing sodas is an overly simple tactic that it does not reduce obesity or improve such conditions as diebetes or heart disease. The association says West Virginia and Arkansas tax sodas, yet have high obesity rates.
A similar measure to tax soda is also on the Richmond city ballot.