OK Soft Drink Tax Would Fund Road, Other Projects

Wed February 18, 2004 - West Edition

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) A proposed state tax on soft drinks drew support Feb. 10 from organizations representing such diverse groups as teachers, doctors and roadbuilders.

Rep. Jerry Ellis, D-Valliant, has introduced House Bill 2116, which calls for a vote of the people on imposing a tax of $2 a gallon on syrup used to make soft drinks and a tax of 21 cents per gallon on each gallon of bottled soft drinks sold or offered for sale in Oklahoma.

Estimates are that if the taxes were enacted into law, consumers would pay about 2 cents extra on each can or bottle purchased from stores.

Under the measure, 30 percent of the extra revenue —about $18 million — would go to the state highway construction and maintenance fund for roads and bridges.

Another 30 percent would go into a Medicaid fund for health care coverage for uninsured Oklahomans and would be used to obtain about $50 million in federal matching funds, sponsors said.

Supporters said that would be a small price to pay for the $60 million the bill would raise each year for important projects.

Mario Nunez, vice president of human resources at the Great Plains Coca-Cola Bottling Co. in Oklahoma City, said the legislation is unfair and discriminatory.

“If you stand back and look at it, it is a hidden tax,” Nunez said. “We already pay taxes on groceries, so we are going to tax soft drinks twice?”

He said Ellis had a similar bill a year ago but it died after getting no support in a House committee.