Soda tax bill heats up again - News, Weather and Sports for Lincoln, NE;

Soda tax bill heats up again

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By: Megan Palera

It was the beverage industry versus health activists - round two - at the State Capitol Friday.

Senator Bill Avery of Lincoln introduced a bill to get soda off the tax exemption list. So far 35 states, including Nebraska's neighbors, tax soda.

"Even Mississippi - believe it or not - even Mississippi has gotten it right here. And we haven't," Avery said.

LB 447 would tax all, non-alcoholic beverages that contain natural or artificial sweeteners at the standard sales tax rate. For example, 7% in Lincoln. It would generate 11 million dollars to create the Nebraska Healthy Kids Fund to help fight childhood obesity.

School and health officials say they could expand initiatives that are already working well, like the one at Kearney Public Schools.

"You won't find the bake sales every Friday afternoon for fundraisers. You will find a district program that allows you to buy gardens to raise money," UNK Professor Kate Heelan said.

But the beverage industry is crying foul.

"Since 2008, the U.S. soft drink industry lost 200 million cases of business ... while obesity rates continue to climb. The simple math there doesn't work," Nebraska Beverage Assoc. President Wayne Parks said.

Even the Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce calls it an unfair tax.

"We are making a much better statement about reducing obesity by giving them the money to do the things they can with various activities than we will be by adding another tax on citizens of the state of Nebraska," Steve Ford said.

LB 447, like many of the other bills dealing with taxes, will most likely not make it out of committee. Instead, senators are asking that they be included in the Legislature's broader tax reform study.

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