Legislation continues to advance in Michigan to ban local taxes on food, beverages and gum, with local lawmakers in support.

HB 4999 would prohibit local governments in Michigan from taxing certain foods and beverages. No local government in Michigan is now considering such a tax on soda and other sugary and artificially sweetened items. But lawmakers say ordinances have been approved in other states, and they want to make a pre-emptive strike. The House passed the bill 107-1 Thursday.

State Representative Hank Vaupel who chairs the House Health Policy committee was among those in support. The Handy Township Republican says it’s difficult for a community to tax its way to health. He says allowing municipalities to impose a tax on food would have devastating consequences for families, farmers, small grocery stores and markets. Vaupel feels low-income families that already struggle to make ends meet would see their budgets stretched even thinner and farmers could find it difficult to sell their products.

A coalition that includes farmers, grocers, food banks and a labor union is backing the bill. It says beverages taxes in the Chicago area and Philadelphia have driven up prices and "killed hundreds of jobs." Health groups and local governments oppose the legislation. Testimony submitted by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network said 20% percent of all cancers are caused by poor diet, physical inactivity, excess weight and too much alcohol consumption. Thus taxing sugary drinks would likely to create an economic disincentive to reduce consumption which could aid in fighting obesity and decrease the risk of cancer.

Michigan could be the first state to bar local taxes on all foods. The bipartisan legislation banning local food taxes passed 31-5 in the Senate, with support from all Republicans and six Democrats. Local Senator Joe Hune voted in support. The earliest the Legislature could finalize the legislation is next week. (JM)