By Joe Fisher
Supporters of Measure N, the regressive “soda tax” on the November ballot that would raise grocery bills in Richmond, are now going as far as accusing their opponents of not being able to think for themselves and having been bought off by the soft drink industry.
The charge most recently was leveled last Friday by Richmond City Councilman Jeff Ritterman during a debate on KQED public radio’s public affairs call-in program “Forum” — and it is being met by calls that Ritterman apologize and retract the statements.
“This is a typical tactic of Councilman Ritterman and his allies,” said Lloyd Madden, president of the Black American Political Action Committee (BAPAC) of Contra Costa County.
“If you disagree with them, they will attempt to discredit you by challenging your motivation and your capacity for independent thought,” said Madden.
Measure N, which Ritterman says is intended to reduce soda consumption and raise money for anti-obesity efforts, is actually a new license business tax. It would require local markets, restaurants and food vendors to pay to the city a fee of a penny per ounce on the sale of any beverage sweetened with any amount of added sugar of any kind, without exception.
It is anticipated that Measure N will raise grocery bills when businesses are forced to pass along the cost of the tax to consumers. It also is expected to hurt these local businesses when customers who can go elsewhere to shop and to dine to avoid Measure N price hikes.
Additionally, the $3 million a year that Measure N would raise—coming directly out of the pocketbooks of Richmond residents—would be placed directly into the city’s general fund and could be used by the politicians behind the tax for any lawful municipal purpose.
Not a penny is specifically for recreation, nutrition education and other anti-obesity programs and efforts.
On Friday, during the radio debate, No on Measure campaign spokesman Chuck Finnie argued that the regressive nature of the tax, its likely economic effects and the fact that the measure amounts to a blank check for Councilman Ritterman and his council allies, was the reason thousands of Richmond residents and numerous local businesses, community leaders and civic organizations, from the Chamber of Commerce to the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, are on record as opposing Measure N.
In response, Councilman Ritterman attempted to discredit the NAACP of Richmond and other opponents by suggesting they have been bought off and couldn’t or wouldn’t have otherwise arrived at their positions or gotten involved.
“Without big soda’s money,” said Ritterman, “there is no organized opposition.” With respect to the NAACP Richmond branch, he accused the organization of being “influenced by political football,” meaning its stance against Measure N isn’t based on an honest view of the measure’s flaws and isn’t based on what the organization thinks is best for the community.
Ritterman also went on to suggest that African American political activists who oppose the tax and who have been hired to serve as consultants to the No on Measure N campaign are somehow discredited.
“I’m pleased with the fact that BAPAC have helped No on N create employment in Richmond,” Madden added.
“Councilman Ritterman and his allies would be well served spending more time focused on job creation in our city rather than coming up with regressive new taxes and trying to discredit people who don’t agree with them.”