House Health Care Committee passes soda tax
By Peter Hirschfeld
Staff Writer | February 27,2013
A bizarre morning in the House Committee on Health Care just culminated in the approval of legislation that includes a 1-cent per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
The $24 million raised by the excise tax would be used to pay for health care subsidies for the low- and middle-income Vermonters who will be required to purchase their insurance next year in the new exchange.
In passing the soda tax, the committee jettisoned the so-called “Catamount assessment,” which is a surcharge on employers that the Shumlin administration had sought to use to fund subsidies in the exchange.
Committee members had considered various iterations of the bill, including one that would have bolstered insurance subsidies for poor people. That proposal was rejected, primarily because it funded the increased assistance by reallocating money that had otherwise been slated to go to hospitals.
The 90 minutes of committee discussion included several revelations about the circumstances surrounding the dramatic 5-5 vote on the sugar tax last Friday. Among them was news that Rep. George Till left the building not because he had to attend to a medical emergency, but because he wanted to buy time to negotiate a deal that would get more support for the bill.
For a full account of the closely watched vote, check out Thursday's edition of the Rutland Herald.
The victory today for advocates of the soda tax will almost certainly be short-lived. The bill moves next to the House Committee on Ways and Means, where a majority of the members look to be opposed to the excise tax.
Should the bill get through the House, it faces significant opposition in the Senate. And Gov. Peter Shumlin opposes the soda tax.