a lie built right into the name

So the opponents of Prop. V have almost convinced me to support it.

Let me back up a bit.

Proposition V is going to be on the ballot this November here in San Francisco. It’s a city-level tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, which for this purpose is being defined as “a beverage that contains added sugar and 25 or more calories per 12 ounces.” When you look at the list of things that are exempt it becomes quite clear that this is specifically targeting soda pop (I don’t even remember the last time I saw those two words together, let alone wrote them myself. Weird.) and other junk-food drinks. Diet soda, alcohol, and probably anything you think of as a healthy soft drink are not subject to it.

There are a lot of valid and interesting points of discussion to this proposal, and I think some good conversations could be had about it, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about the campaign against it, specifically the mailings I’ve been getting that were paid for by No on V, Enough is Enough: Don’t Tax Our Groceries, with Major Funding by American Beverage Association California PAC.

That’s seriously what it says. Take a moment to appreciate that at some point there had to be a committee meeting in which people deliberately chose that name. On purpose.

“But Leo,” I hear you cry, “You said this was a tax on sugary soft drinks! What’s this about groceries?”

Well you see, the opponents are calling it the Grocery Tax. I think the reasoning is that you can buy soda at a grocery store, therefore it counts as groceries. Even for an American election campaign, this is surprisingly dishonest.

Which is why I say they’ve damn near convinced me to vote for it, because if you’re going to be such a blatant liar, I feel almost obligated to oppose you.

I’ve complained before about obfuscation in election issues, and I’m sure I will again. It feels like it’s getting worse, but I’m not sure that’s true. I do know that this one angers me more than you’d expect, partly from simple overexposure, they’re sending me one of these a week and the hyperbole gets weirder every time. Partly because they’re so blatant about their lies, they actually included a summary by the Ballot Simplification Committee in one of their pamphlets in which you could read the entire thing, not just the highlighted section that says “The City could use the proceeds of the tax for any governmental purpose.” (It was accompanied by the usual cries that “politicians” could use the money however they wanted.)

Keep in mind that these are the same people who are calling this proposed tax on soda a “grocery tax” and they are including a very real and very succinct summary that makes it clear that it’s only a tax on sugary soft drinks. They’re being dishonest right to our faces and, apparently, assuming we won’t read anything else or think about it at all.

This proposed tax would be one cent per once. So it would increase the price of a can of soda by $0.12, and a six pack by $1.44. The funds would go into the city treasury to be used for city purposes, nobody’s going to be buying a new yacht with it.

It’s been my policy for a while now that I default to voting “no” on any proposition unless I can be convinced it’s a benefit, on the theory that this way I’m not making things any worse. I haven’t been convinced of this one, in fact the only conversation I’m seeing isn’t actually about Prop V, it’s about a phantom that isn’t going to be on any ballot. And that makes me angry, because there really are a lot of worthwhile discussions to be had here, like the ethics of increasing the price slightly to manipulate people for their own good, which we already do with cigarettes and other controlled substances.

Would this make soda a controlled substance in some way? Where is the line between the government’s responsibility to improve public health and government meddling in private life? Is this tax targeting the poor, whose habits are more likely to change because of it; or the rich, who will be paying most of it? Will this improve public health enough to justify meddling in private business? These are all valid questions that I think are worth discussing.

But that’s not the discussion we’re getting. We’re getting lies and hyperbole. It makes me want to vote yes on the damn thing just to give these assholes the finger, to discourage this sort of shit that is so prevalent in our political discourse and so harmful to all of us. Because I want to encourage thoughtful, informed voting instead of this.

Incidentally, when I saw the name of that committee I almost didn’t believe it, so I looked it up on sfethics.org to double check. That is indeed the actual current name of the committee, but apparently they spent their first month opposing the “beverage tax”, before changing their name. “Beverage tax” is an honest description of the proposition, and while some of the name changes are obviously just to keep their goal clear, (for example after the tax was assigned its name of Proposition V they changed to include that,) I’m curious what discussion led to that first change to talk about “groceries”. I wonder if they’re honest with themselves about the lie inherent in that name, or if they’ve convinced themselves that they’re only stretching the truth a bit.

People are so strange and complicated.

For the record, I have not yet decided how I’m going to vote on Prop V, but every time I see it called a grocery tax I lean a little more towards “yes”.

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on September 24, 2016, in Daily Post and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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