By: J. Justin Wilson
Newspaper: Albany Times Union
If you want to see creativity in politicians, look at the excuses they come up with to get more of your money. Seattle even taxes dying, to the tune of $50.
The latest example of this lunacy is the “Children’s Health Promotion Fund,” the Orwellian-named initiative by state Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, D-Brooklyn, that would put a $1.28-per-gallon tax on sugary drinks.
The problem is that a tax is a tax, and if history is a guide, the revenue won’t end up helping children’s health. New York taxpayers need to realize that it’s nothing more than an attempt to levy higher taxes on the state’s already soaked taxpayers.
Just because legislators put revenue in a “children’s fund” doesn’t mean that they will create new health programs or increase spending on kids. Instead of reduced obesity, what we might discover are new bounds of language stretching. Politicians sell these taxes with promises of direct benefits to citizens, but after the reporters go home and the public looks elsewhere, regulators in Albany will likely use the funds to offset other liabilities or, more troublingly, divert the funds to their pet projects and favored constituencies.
Special interest groups will want their piece of the action, too. When then-Gov. David Paterson considered a soda tax a few years ago, he reportedly cut a deal with hospitals and their unions that if the tax passed he would reduce cuts to their sector. New Yorkers rejected the tax since the promises of obesity reductions and health care improvements were unlikely.
Soda taxes are wildly regressive, taking far more of the income of poorer consumers than wealthier ones. And contrary to the claims of tax advocates, they don’t see health benefits that compensate. A study from Duke-National University of Singapore found that the lowest fourth of consumers by income did not consume any fewer calories under a soda tax regime. Indeed, a recent commentary by researchers from Yale, Emory, and the University of Washington warned “Evidence suggests caution in enacting sugar-sweetened beverage taxation legislation with a core purpose of obesity reduction.”
We also have to consider whom the soda tax will hurt. It won’t hurt those tasting $300-per-bottle wines at Manhattan’s finer eateries, but rather the working people who want a soda to refresh them.
The lesson is that politicians’ promises should be treated as, well, not worth the paper they’re written on. A soda tax would be bad policy that hurts hardworking New Yorkers and offers politicians yet another way to take a vacuum cleaner to wallets.