soda tax — Dr. Bold

Tuesday, Oklahoma House Democratic media flack Mike Ray distributed a 1,200-word press release to promote an idea being recirculated by a former state legislator.

Hours later, KOCO Channel 5’s Mecca Rayne funneled that release into a 250-word report on “soda tax” that former Rep. and Sen. Jerry Ellis would like to see the Legislature consider in 2017:

“I’ve offered a soft drink tax again. I think it’s a luxury,” Ellis said.

Ellis said since soda really isn’t a “have-to-have” item, he thinks Oklahomans would support taxing it to bring in money.

“If you did a nickel on every 12 ounces, it will likely generate $200 million. If you use that money from Medicaid, you’d get $1.60 for every state dollar and this $200 million could turn into $500 million,” Ellis said.

Ellis noting that he has “offered” a soft drink tax “again” — this time from his perch in the McCurtain County peanut gallery — seems confusing since he can’t actually file legislation or make formal proposals as an ex-legislator.

Jerry Ellis

Likewise, KOCO’s omission of any comment from sitting legislators makes the station’s one-source press release story extra irrelevant.

Are Republican legislative leaders open to the idea? Are current Democratic members even proposing it?

The absence of answers to such questions would imply they aren’t, and the release quotes no one on the topic other than Ellis, who publishes the Southeast Times in Idabel.

What KOCO left out

Despite the awkward framing of Ellis’ soda tax idea, the original press release on the matter included plenty of interesting information that didn’t make it into KOCO’s story.

For instance, the release listed the various standard sizes for soda bottles by corresponding ounces, and it cited poor Oklahoma health rankings as evidence of the need for better funding in that arena:

Earlier this month the United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings report rated Oklahoma 46th in the nation for its poor health behaviors and outcomes. For example, Oklahoma ranked:

  • 43rd (seventh-highest in the nation) for drug deaths
  • 43rd in obesity
  • 48th in physical inactivity
  • 45th for smoking
  • 37th for infectious disease
  • 37th for violent crime
  • 7th highest in cancer deaths
  • 5th worst in the rate of infant mortality
  • ninth-worst in diabetes

More than one health-insurance carrier has pulled out of Oklahoma because it is one of the most unhealthy states in the nation.

“I realize that some critics will contend that a soda tax would affect lower-income Oklahomans more than the ‘high society’ crowd that lives in gated communities,” said Ellis, a lifelong Democrat.

At the end of his press release, Ellis pivoted from his backhanded “high society” critique to remind people that he’s a regular Joe … erm … Jerry.

“I believe that many people would continue to buy soft drinks even if a soda tax were assessed, so nobody would lose their job over it,” Ellis said in the conclusion of the press release. “Soft drinks are not a necessity; they’re optional. I’m still drinking my Mountain Dew every day.”

Keep on doing the ‘Dew, Jerry.

We’ll keep our eyes out for any signs that actual legislators are considering such high-fructose corn legislation.