D.C. tax to apply to sweetened drinks

D.C.’s 6 percent general sales tax rate will be extended to soda and other sweetened beverages beginning next month, but students purchasing these drinks from Sodexo-run dining venues will not see a price increase.

When the D.C. Council voted to approve the Districts’s 2011 $5.3 billion budget in May, the sales tax extension was approved to take effect Oct. 1. The tax will apply to purchases at stores of both diet and non-diet sodas, energy drinks and sport drinks. Water, juices, tea and coffee won’t be included in the tax extension.

Sam Ramos, general manager of Sodexo Services at GW, said items purchased by students using their GWorld card in Sodexo facilities will remain tax-free. If students use a credit card or cash for payment, Ramos said they will be charged D.C.’s current 10 percent tax rate – which applies to restaurant and take-out food items – but he said that rate won’t increase on top of that. The type of drink purchased has no effect on the tax rate at GW’s Sodexo dining venues.

“The 6 percent tax increase that is being implemented is for off premise consumption such as cases of soda which we do not have for sale,” Ramos said.

Although a compromise was reached by the D.C. Council to increase the price of soda and other beverages in the District, GW Law School professor and Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh said the sales tax extension isn’t focusing on the issue of soda consumption.

“It is not a soda tax. Instead of that tax, which I favored, the Council extended the sales tax to beverages,” she said.

Cheh had proposed assessing a tax of one cent per ounce of soda and other sugared drinks, excluding diet soda. Her proposal was shot down by Council members, and received strong opposition by both small and big businesses.

She said that the measure is providing funding for her Healthy Schools Act, an already approved measure that aims to raise nutrition quality of student school meals and to improve physical education. “[However] it did not target soda and thus we lost the opportunity to drive down soda consumption,” she said.

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