If you are voting this November, you will undoubtedly see a measure on the ballot called the “grocery tax,” or Proposition V. One might be surprised and then exasperated: they are taxing groceries? Before you start an angry march towards your local Safeway, it is crucial to understand the underlying details of the tax and realize that the name of the proposition is, in many ways, very deceiving.
Local San Francisco doctor John Maa, a staunch supporter of the measure, recently filed a complaint with the San Francisco Ethics Commission to investigate the name of Proposition V. Maa claims it is misleading since the tax has nothing to do with groceries, but is a proposition that “would place a tax of one cent per ounce on the distribution of sugar-sweetened beverages.” Maa claims the title of the measure exists solely for voters to believe their their food will carry extra cost. In reality, the tax is no more than a cover-up by the soda industry to have people shy away from voting for the proposition.
While the Ethics Commission ended up throwing out the complaint, claiming that it did not fall under their purview, the deceit underlying the naming of Proposition V reveals larger problems with San Francisco politics as a whole.
Our staff urges voters to understand that those against Proposition V are only interested in the bottom line of soda companies, some of the most profitable and powerful corporations in America. Despite the fact this is a local municipal proposition, there will inevitably be heavy lobbying and advertising by Pepsico, Coca-Cola and their subsidiaries in order to influence the outcome of this proposition. It is no wonder the numerous ads, door signs and billboards around San Francisco against the measure are largely paid for by soda companies themselves.
This political funding by corporations is yet another example of money being tied directly to politics, something the Ethics Commission should absolutely consider under their purview, especially with the deception that is tied to the measure. If our very institutions are for the benefit of the citizens of San Francisco, then who can we trust to make sure this blatant deception is not making its way to the ballot?
The claim that Proposition V is a “grocery tax” of any kind is manipulative to the San Francisco voter; the word “groceries” does not appear anywhere in the text of the proposition. It also specifies that the tax applies only to distributors: “The distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages in San Francisco would be responsible for paying the tax. The tax would not apply to retail sales of sugar-sweetened beverages,” meaning, only the soda companies would pay a tax if Proposition V passed, not the local corner store.
In an act of dissent, a member of our staff who works at a local Safeway explained his concerns with local government impeding on citizens’ health. It is important to note that it is not the actual tax itself that our staff has issues with, but rather two distinct problems with measure: the deceptive naming, and the corporate involvement in politics.
For our institutions, laws, and government to be transparent and trustworthy, we must hold the measures on our city’s ballot to similarly high bar; this starts with Proposition V receiving a name that relates to the tax’s actual actions. We must also come to terms with the fact that the resources and money the soda industry will pump into the no-campaign will undoubtedly overwhelm those of the yes-campaign. The problem of money in politics will not vanish any time soon, but the city should at least be aware of the fact that soda companies have a vested interest in having Proposition V fail. The “grocery tax” is anything but one, and the voters of San Francisco deserve better.