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Backers push election beyond May 2018 to increase chances of passing tax on sugary drinks.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - Although soda tax supporters say they have enough signatues to place the measure on the May 2018 ballot, they now think a vote in November 2018 or later might be to their advantage.The campaign to tax sugary drinks in Multnomah County has delayed its proposed ballot measure from May 2018 to November 2018 at the soonest.

The Coalition for Healthy Kids & Education had scheduled a press conference for Monday to announce it had collected more than the required 17,381 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot.

But the coalition postponed the press conference and signature filing to assess whether a later election date would increase the chances of the measure passing. The decision came after Democratic candidates swept recent special elections in Virgina and Washington.

"Because of shifting political currents, the Coalition for Healthy Kids & Education has decided that focusing on a higher turnout election will maximize our chances of success. While this means we won't be on the ballot in May 2018, we will continue our strong grassroots campaign over the next year, with a close eye on the congressional election in November 2018," said campaign manager Terri Steenbergen.

If passed, the proposed measure will add a distribution tax of 1.5 cents per ounce on sugary drinks, including soda, energy drinks and sweetened teas. It is expected to raise more than $28.4 million per year in Multnomah County. Half the revenue will expand early learning programs to low-income children and the rest will help fund more programs that promote healthy kids, like school gardens, curriculum focused on healthy eating and nutrition science and better school playgrounds.

According to the coalition, research shows that only 25 percent of low-income children in Oregon have access to high quality preschool because the cost is unaffordable for most working families.

In addition, childhood diabetes has increased by nearly 30 percent in the past 15 years and experts point to excess sugar consumption as a key factor driving diabetes and other ailments like heart disease and tooth decay. Sugary drinks are the largest source of added sugars in the diets of kids, experts say.

The coalition includes dozens of businesses, community groups, elected officials, health organizations and neighborhood associations.

The proposed measure is opposed by the Move Forward Multnomah Coalition, which includes local small business owners who say it will increase their costs and hurt their sales.

To read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue, go to portlandtribune.com/pt/9-news/363718-243889-tax-on-sweet-drinks-headed-for-ballot.

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