Beverage distributors and retailers in the Northern Mariana Islands have been concerned since Rep. Felicidad T. Ogumoro introduced in September House Bill 19-99 on the Health Impact Tax Act, otherwise known as the soda tax act. The act proposed a tax of 4¢ per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages and similarly to syrups and powders.
The controversial bill, once passed through the House by a vote of 10 to 8 on April 28, was recalled by the House of Representatives on June 7. Ogumoro recalled the bill at the advisement of the governor in order to address concerns raised by the public, according to the governor’s office. Amendments to the bill may be considered in the House.
“Our understanding is that milk is included in the bill. … This will cause a huge increase in milk prices for federal programs like the Women Infant Children program and the school program,” says Rustico Loyola, operations manager for Coca-Cola Beverages Inc. (Saipan).
He says a representative from a theater was one of many who voiced concerns in a meeting with the governor on May 16.
“We are opposed to it,” says Guy Pudney, general manager of Marianas Pacific Distributors Inc. “What that would do on the retail side is double the cost for a case of drink. So we see it as excessive; we see it as being very unfriendly to the business segments.”
Many businesses hope other options will be considered, says Charles V. Cepeda, general manager of Pacific Trading Co.