Could Mass. impose tax on sodas?

Efforts to impose a tax on soda in Massachusetts have fallen flat in the past.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Efforts to impose a tax on soda in Massachusetts have fallen flat in the past.

Among the proposals facing the Legislature in the new year: a plan to impose a tax on soda. Such efforts have fallen flat in the past, but the notion has gained support elsewhere in the country recently. Here’s a quick look at what’s at stake.

What’s the idea behind taxing soda?

Proponents describe soda taxes in much the same way that advocates have argued for increased taxes on cigarettes over the years: They create a new stream of revenue for government while encouraging consumers to cut back on an unhealthy practice – in this case, consuming sugar. In some cases, the revenue is used for public health programs.

What are the arguments against it?

Some opponents simply don’t want to burden consumers with new taxes. Some argue that such a tax takes a disproportionate toll on the poor. Some object to the government attempting to force changes in their personal behavior.

Has such a tax been imposed elsewhere?


Yes. In last month’s election voters in four jurisdictions, including San Francisco and Boulder, Colo., approved such a tax. Philadelphia and Berkeley, Calif., have such a tax. And in Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago, commissioners in mid-November approved a new 1-cent levy. Among the high-profile supporters of such efforts: former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was active in the California campaigns. (Bloomberg’s own effort to ban oversized drinks in New York was a flop.)

How is such a proposal likely to fare in Massachusetts?

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The new national momentum may boost its chances, but this has been a tough fight in the past. Former governor Deval Patrick pushed repeatedly for a tax on both candy and soda, currently exempt from the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax. His administration argued that it would help curb rates of obesity, including among children, but the plan never won the approval of state lawmakers. Governor Charlie Baker has made it clear that he opposes raising taxes.

Felice Belman can be reached at