Turns out, the controversial bill to raise taxes on sodas, sugar powders, and syrups had already been vetoed by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres before the House of Representatives’ voted to “recall” the controversial bill from the governor’s desk last week.
Torres vetoed the bill on June 2, before he left for meetings in Washington, D.C., but the House had voted to recall the bill on June 7.
This was made clear in the formal transmittal letter on the Torres veto last Friday, on the June 11 deadline to act on the bill.
Acting governor Victor Hocog wrote that he was aware that the House adopted the motion to recall the bill, also known as the “Health Impact Sugar Tax, which would have raised taxes on sugar sweetened beverages, syrups, and powders by 4 cents.
“While the action was noted, I regret to inform you that Gov. Ralph DLG Torres has already taken action on the bill…by disapproving it,” Hocog said in the June 11 letter to the Legislature, in which Torres’ veto message is enclosed.
“While I do not dispute the bill’s intent, which is to improve overall community health, I have concerns with the bill in its current form,” Torres said.
Torres said the bill did not include any provisions that actually created a “special healthcare impact account”—where the funds from the tax would be deposited for health programs.
Nor did the bill, Torres added, specify whether the account is a component of the general fund, meaning for appropriations or as an earmark.
Torres said, quoting this bill, that the sugar tax bill would have “interest and penalties collected on the taxes imposed…be deposited in the” special account,” and that, “60 percent of the revenues collected shall be allocated and deposited in the Special Healthcare Impact account and divided as follows….”
But Torres said this was a “fundamental flaw.”
“Funds cannot be deposited into an account that does not exist,” he said, going on to refer to law that correctly created revolving funds for solid waste management and others.
Torres goes on to say that “there is no clear evidence” that the tax would not be overly punitive for businesses and consumers.
“While this bill has warranted my veto, it does not mean we should stop having the necessary discussions about the health and welfare of our community. I want to make it clear that it is a priority of my administration to promote a healthy and prosperous community and will genuinely offer my assistance to the Legislature and the stakeholders in creating legislation that offers comprehensive solutions to the health problems affecting our islands,” Torres said.