Indianapolis sugary drink tax is stalled for now

A City-County Council committee heard a proposal to impose a tax on sugary drinks. ( NBC file photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — A member of the city’s bi-partisan commission on infrastructure says she wants to continue the conversation about a sugary drink tax for Indianapolis.

The recommendation was sponsored by commission member Leigh Riley Evans. It would require retailers to collect a one-cent per ounce tax on sugary drinks – including soda, fruit drinks with sweeteners, lemonade, sports drinks, sweetened water and coffee, and energy drinks.

According to representatives from the American Heart Association, who presented the proposal, the tax could create $47 million in new annual revenue for infrastructure improvements.

Evans said the commission, made up of state legislators, city-county councilors, and local residents, couldn’t advance the proposal during Tuesday night’s meeting. The reason was there wasn’t enough people to bring it to a vote. Evans said she’d like to re-introduce the idea in the future.

Evans calls it a win-win, generating much-needed revenue for streets and sidewalks and discouraging unhealthy behaviors.

“It is definitely mutually beneficial for residents and the city,” she said.

Other members, including State Representative Justin Moed, have concerns.

“It’s a challenge because these are hard-to-chance behaviors,” Moed said. “I think, to tax that at a time when people are already financially strapped … I think there’s a better way to try to change behavior.”

“I don’t see that as a viable option,” said State Representative Cindy Kirchhofer, another commission member who wasn’t present for Tuesday’s meeting, but said she opposes the idea.

“Particularly in my district … residents are taxed to death and they often say no more taxes," Kirchhofer said. "While sometimes we do have to make those hard decisions, if we’re going to tax any kind of consumable beverage or food or unhealthy product, then I want it to be used to change health metrics and not fund infrastructure."

“I don't want us to stop having conversations and being creative,” said Evans, who added there is some debate as to whether state law currently allows cities to impose such a tax.

“There are some attorneys that think it can be local. There are some that think it has to be a state decision, and so we are willing to revise the language to ask the state to grant that authority,” said Evans. “All I’m asking for is us to recommend the state grant the authority to look at it (and) just to continue the conversation.”

According to the American Heart Association’s proposal, $4.7 million would be spent on bicycle and pedestrian projects and programs “designed to prevent and treat childhood obesity and health conditions.”

The commission meets again next month.

According to the Tax Policy Center, on state has a tax on sugary beverages. But soda taxes are in place in seven U.S. cities.

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