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Legislature may pop growth of soft drinks

By Staff
Bob Ingram/Alabama Scene
MONTGOMERY---If you were asked to name the most successful lobby in the state the odds are strong that the Alabama Education Association would be No. 1 by a wide margin.
On the flip side, it is doubtful that the soft drink lobby would even be included in the "also receiving votes" category.
But the record would suggest that the folks who represent Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola and the myriad of other soft drinks must have done a pretty good job.
In the past half century as the cost of government has soared taxes have been imposed on just about every product you can think of---not just income and property but cigarettes, beer, whiskey, cell phones, jewelry…the list is endless.
But…think about it…not one penny of tax has ever been imposed on soft drinks.
There are some great stories from the political past about efforts to tax soft drinks. A move was made to impose a one-cent-per-bottle tax on soft drinks in the late 1950s but opponents warned that if such a tax was imposed the cost of a soda which was then a nickel a bottle would surely go up to a dime.
Guess what? The tax was defeated but not long thereafter the cost of a soft drink did indeed go up to a dime.
All this comes to mind in the wake of the announcement a few days ago by Rep. Ron Johnson, R-Sylacauga, that he would introduce a bill imposing a five cents a can or bottle on soft drinks, bottled water and other non-alcoholic drinks.
Johnson said his bill would earmark the proceeds of this tax for Medicaid, which faces a projected deficit of $129 million next year.
As recent as last year the Legislature approved a 20-cents-per pack tax increase on cigarettes to fund Medicaid.
Oakley Melton Jr., the long time attorney for the Alabama Soft Drink Association, warned the tax would hit hardest the children of Alabama and the poor people.
A few decades ago State Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, a man who could find the issue of race everywhere he looked (and still can), was determined that the Confederate Flag which flew over the Capitol should come down.
Thwarted on all sides, Holmes made a promise that he would climb the dome of the Capitol and remove it himself. Understand, Holmes is a tiny little guy, somewhat rotund, who stands no more than 5-6 on his tip-toes. The thought of him scaling the Capitol Dome was the subject of more than a few jokes.
On the day of his promised Mount Everest-like undertaking…and in fairness, Holmes was joined by a number of other black legislators…a huge crowd gathered to watch. They could have sold thousands of tickets for this event.
Fortunately, Capitol security forces blocked Holmes…the climbing of the Capitol Dome never happened. It would have been quite a show.
Years later Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. ordered that the flag removed from the dome and it hasn't been there since.
This story from the past came to mind last week when the same Rep. Holmes…and while he has grown older he is no less noisy…demanded that a Confederate Flag plaque displayed in front of the Montgomery Civic Center be removed. He said it insulted every black who saw it.
Mayor Bobby Bright of Montgomery said "no way"…he said it was on that spot that the Confederate government had its headquarters, and that the Confederacy was as much a part of Montgomery history as the Civil Rights movement.
At least in this quest---successful or not--Holmes won't have to do any serious climbing.