Lawsuit Claims California’s Ban on Soda Taxes Is Illegal

Opponents say the ban violates the state’s constitution.

August 13, 2020

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—California's 2018 law prohibiting cities from taxing sugary drink purchases until 2031 is illegal, according to a lawsuit filed this week in Sacramento Superior Court on behalf of nonprofit Cultiva La Salud and Santa Cruz City Councilmember Martine Watkins.

As reports, the lawsuit specifically attacks a provision in the law that prohibits cities from imposing new taxes or fees on groceries. The plaintiffs argue that this violates the state constitution, which authorizes municipalities to levy taxes to pay for public services.

“It is imperative that local governments have decision-making power and all tools at their disposal to protect the health and safety of their residents, especially during this time of COVID-19,” said Sarah de Guia, CEO of ChangeLab Solutions, a national organization that promotes laws and policies to ensure health. “Abusive laws like this one harm families and communities, and they should have no place in California or anywhere else.”

Santa Cruz officials wanted to place a sugary beverage tax on its ballot for voter approval, but this state law prevented it. If the health group and council member get a ruling in their favor, that opens the door for California cities to take advantage of the opportunity to tax soda and other sweetened drinks. California lawmakers have shown an interest in taxing foods that are considered “unhealthy.” Last year, state lawmakers introduced five bills, each with the goal of reducing consumption of sweetened drinks. The laws wanted to use taxes, warning labels, size limits and product placement to discourage purchase.