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Poll shows more than half of Arizonans would support tax on soda

Posted at 8:00 PM, Nov 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-20 16:16:27-05
A new poll has surprising results for the GOP pollster who conducted it. 
It finds 59 percent of Arizonans would pay a two-cent-per-ounce tax on soda, if the revenue went directly to schools.
The poll was conducted by OH Predictive Insights, a Valley-based Republican polling firm, whose polling favors conservatives at plus 12 points. In other words, pollster Mike Noble did not expect these results.
"We thought it would be an interesting conversation," Noble says. That's really all it was since there is no pending legislation or ballot initiative. No one, to our knowledge, is actually proposing a soda tax.
But if they did, Noble's poll suggests, it would win by a landslide. That's not supposed to happen in Republican polls. Republicans tend to hate new taxes, especially nanny state taxes. "When we saw the results, we were shockingly surprised."
Part of the challenge for pollsters is to explain their own polling, especially when the results are unexpected. Noble suggests, it's the school component.  
The poll question suggested a soda tax would raise $660 million and the money would all go to our education system. While Republicans make up the largest voting block in the state, they have also shown a willingness to pay more in taxes to benefit a school system which trails the nation by many measures.  
Unbeknownst to poll respondents, $660 million would fund a full ten-percent raise for teachers, with nearly $300 million left over for other improvements.
It's a tantalizing proposal on its face, if true. The beverage industry suggests, it is not.  
Mike Gardner of the Arizona Beverage Association -- the lobbying group for non-alcoholic beverages -- says beverage taxes haven't gone over well in other places.
In Cook County Illinois, County Commissioners recently voted 15 - 1 to repeal a far more modest soda tax, after an overwhelming outcry from voters. The tax lasted just over three months.
In Philadelphia, according to Gardner, "Sales plummeted as much as 50 percent at some local grocery stores. Grocery stores and beverage distributors have announced layoffs in the hundreds. A tax that the city counted on to provide $7.2 million in revenue brought in 30 percent less in the first month, jeopardizing pre-K programs that need a reliable revenue source to stay open."
In other reports, Philadelphia's mayor has touted the success of the tax, while admitting some people travel outside the city, just to avoid paying it.
The tax in Noble's poll would add 35- to 50-percent to the cost of a can of soda, and it could double the cost of a Polar Pop.  
Gardner likens the tax to soda to a tax on groceries, hitting us where we can't hit back.  Of course, Mountain Dew isn't really a staple food, for most people.  
In any case, Noble's poll is sure to stir up debate. Perhaps, emboldened by the numbers, someone will take up the cause and attempt to make it a law. If they do, expect pushback from conservatives and the beverage industry.  
The Beverage Association's Gardner says the industry cares about schools, but any soda tax is "something we would fight vigorously."