Group plans all-out push for tax on sugary drinks


The Alliance for a Healthier Vermont is renewing its push for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and has hired a new leader for the campaign.

Anthony Iarrapino will leave his position with the Conservation Law Foundation in Montpelier to shepherd the initiative through the Legislature next year.

Efforts to pass a sugar-sweetened beverage tax fizzled in 2010 and 2013, but Iarrapino said the time is right to pass the legislation in the upcoming session.

"We're going to have the resources this time around to really mobilize and educate the public and policy makers on the wisdom of Vermont once again leading the nation in an important policy area," he said.

The Alliance for a Healthier Vermont is made up of more than 30 health care trade groups and advocacy organizations, led by the Vermont chapter of the American Heart Association.

The group says it has received about $200,000 to support the campaign.

Voices for Healthy Kids, a national initiative sponsored by the Heart Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, gave the alliance $173,000, said Tina Zuk, co-chair of the alliance and government affairs director of the Vermont chapter of the American Heart Association.

The alliance also received $25,000 from the Heart Association to use for media and public education.

A key focus in the Legislature next year will be how to raise money to pay for a publicly financed universal health care program.

An excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages could help pay for such a program, Iarrapino said.

Jim Harrison, president of the Vermont Retail and Grocers' Association, said such a tax would be inconsequential in funding a new government health care program.

"It's a drop in the bucket when you're trying to raise $2 billion," he said, citing the estimated first year operating costs to the state for a single-payer program.

The alliance is going to seek a 2 cents per ounce tax on beverages with added sugar, which they say would generate roughly $35 million.

The legislation failed by one vote in the House Ways and Means Committee last time, and a recently announced $31 million reduction in revenue forecasts will have lawmakers looking at all their options, Iarrapino said.

There is also public support for such a tax, he said.


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