HONOLULU - Four Hawaii senators have proposed a statewide tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
The Democratic senators said the consumption of sugary drinks contributes to obesity. Hawaii ranks second-to-last among states for adult obesity.
The senators want to charge 1 cent per teaspoon of sugar in each drink and use the revenue to fund community health centers and help trauma victims. They say the tax would translate to about 10 cents per 12-ounce soda.
Sen. Russell Ruderman, who co-sponsored the bill, said he anticipates opposition from consumers.
"It very well might not go through," he said.
Despite the title of the bill which includes the word "taxation," Ruderman said the bill is a fee, not a tax, because Hawaii residents can choose whether to buy sugary drinks. The bill is a way to fight childhood obesity while providing much-needed funding for health care, he said.
Senate Minority Leader Rep. Sam Slom, the only Republican in the state's 25-person Senate, said he opposes the bill.
"It has nothing to do with obesity," he said. "It's a money grab by the state government."
Slom said obesity isn't a major problem in Hawaii, adding that the bill diverts attention from more pressing fiscal and economic issues.
He said the bill imposes on individual choice and that parents are responsible for deciding what their children drink.
Hawaii House Majority Leader Scott Saiki said he isn't sure the bill will find support in the House.
While sugary drinks carry health risks, the House will be cautious about enacting broad-based taxes this session, he said.
Hawaii Senate President Donna Kim called for no new taxes during the legislative opening ceremony last week.