CFA intern Scott Danforth, a student at Trinity College, interviewed State Representative Jason Rojas on two key legislative issues: the bottle bill expansion and the sugar tax. 

This past week I was able to sit down with Connecticut Representative of the 9th district, Mr. Jason Rojas. Along with representing the area of East Hartford and Manchester, Mr. Rojas is also the Director of Community Relations at Trinity College and serves as the Chief of Staff to the President of Trinity College, Joanne Berger-Sweeney. In our discussion Mr. Rojas sincerely expressed his stance on two significant bills within our state: the bottle bill expansion law and the sugar tax. Both of these proposed bills if enacted would affect our work at the Connecticut Food Association, as well as the many grocers we represent. The bottle bill expansion law intends to widen the number of plastic bottles that are taxed a nickel upon purchase in an effort to give people greater incentive to redeem their bottles at a number of grocery stores within the state. The sugar tax aims to create a tax of one-cent-per ounce on soda and other sugary drinks in hopes that the population will become generally healthier as a result of being financially burdened for consuming sugar additives. In our discussion, Mr. Rojas was clear in his stance of these important bills and even gave us some extra information regarding Connecticut’s state budget and the upcoming election. Some of the questions I asked Mr. Rojas were as follows:

  • What is your take on the bottle bill expansion law in our state of Connecticut? And how do you feel about imposing a hidden tax on consumers?
  • Expanding the number of used bottles coming into these grocery stores will create an even greater financial burden for these stores because as of now the machines create no revenue and cost money to upkeep and maintain?
  • Our members (grocery stores) are the ones that feel the burden because they have the redemption machines and are taking the bottles from all stores that don’t have the ability or the machines to redeem the bottles back. What can we do to fix this problem?

Mr. Rojas explained that this bill feels close to home given that he is an active shopper and regularly  redeems his taxed bottles after usage. He doesn’t agree in labeling it a hidden tax as residents of the state would be aware that there is an additional deposit on sugary beverages. And like many controversial taxes passed previously, Mr. Rojas has found that even though it may cause some upheaval in the days directly following, it usually tends to settle down soon after as people forget and move on. Continuing our discussion, Mr. Rojas went on to describe the process by which the taxed nickel is allocated within our state by revealing that the money gained from taxing a nickel per bottle is collected by the state and then redistributed among Connecticut’s towns. Furthermore, when prompted about the financial burden placed upon the grocery stores in having to own and maintain these redemption machines, Mr. Rojas explained that although he does not own a grocery store, he is aware that they operate on thin margins and that any additional cost would cause a burden. He doesn’t believe that by passing the bill it will result in a big enough cost to affect grocery stores profit margins.

  • What is your stance on the sugar tax? Given that bordering towns will lose consumers not only on the beverages under the sugar tax, but also the entire basket of consumers as they will merely do all of their shopping across the state border?
  • Connecticut was voted the 2nd healthiest state in the country, so it seems we are trying to find a solution in search of a problem?

Mr. Rojas was quick to say that he does not support the sugar tax for various reasons. First being that he finds the act of taxing additional sugar as somewhat “gimmicky.” And he was uneasy to bring about a bill that very few other states and cities have enacted because there is little to no data showing the results of how this tax has functioned. Furthermore, Mr. Rojas agreed that this tax would negatively affect stores, as consumers would try to avoid the tax by shopping over state lines. Later, when I showed Mr. Rojas Connecticut’s impressive health statistics, he explained that if you dis-aggregate that data, Connecticut is one of the healthiest states because it is so wealthy and the wealth disparity aligns with a drastic difference in towns’ health standing. Additionally, Mr. Rojas was sure to label the sugar tax as a regressive tax because people on the lower end of the income scale would be buying more of the product and therefore being taxed differently than those who don’t consumer soda. Additionally, the tax would be implemented in hopes to deter people from purchasing sugary products and therefore the state would collect less money if that reasoning proved true.

  • The state budget is obviously a big issue in our capital, but increasing the taxes on residents and also in some cases using hidden taxes is causing many residents to leave our state for cheaper living situations. What do you think is a solution to this problem?
  • All of these bills are taxes on the state residents and to me it seems that these are the reasons that out migration in our state is at an all-time high. Those who can afford to leave are starting to do so merely because they are getting taxed too much to compensate for the state capital’s budget deficit.

Mr. Rojas explained that he believes the heavy taxes on residents is only one of the many reasons residents are leaving our state. His other reasons for the increased rates of out migration is both the lack of jobs in the state and more suitable living situations elsewhere.

  • If you had to make a prediction, how do you think this upcoming election will play out and how will that affect some of these bills? Do you see any immediate change after the outcome of the election?

Mr. Rojas is hopeful that the democratic party will hold onto the house, but as he described the senate and governor’s race is hard to predict and is somewhat of a toss-up. With that being said, he doesn’t see the bottle expansion bill or the sugar tax going anywhere in the coming year, and as he stated, “It’s like the Red Sox; there is always next year.”