Editorial: Soda tax just another money grab

New York already has enough taxes.
There's talk of a new state tax on sugary drinks.
There's talk of a new state tax on sugary drinks.

Here’s a list of things that will make you fat and potentially lead to heart disease, Type II diabetes, high blood pressure and other medical issues

Pie, cake, candy, cookies, cheese, crackers, pasta, sausage, meatballs, potatoes, ham, fried food, alcohol, and those little peanut butter balls your sister-in-law makes. And those are just the items from the table at Christmas.

No one in the state of New York has revealed any intention to impose a special tax on those items as a way to help fund the state’s healthcare system in the wake of Republican threats to repeal Obamacare.

Yet there are rumblings in state government of a new push to impose a special dedicated tax on soda and other beverages containing sugar.

Among those who’ve expressed support for the idea are the Greater New York Hospital Association and state Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried. “I think it primarly makes sense as a public health measure,” Gottfried told The New York Daily News.

State officials believe that taxing the heck out of something might raise revenue, while contributing to people using less of the product.

Is that really true?

New York adds a nation-high tax of $4.35 on a pack of cigarettes. Since the tax was imposed, the number of packs bought at full price has declined 62 percent.

But how much of that decline is attributed to people quitting smoking because of the tax, and how much of it is attributed to people purchasing cigarettes illegally or buying them out of state? And how much of the decline is attributed not to the tax, but to people simply deciding to be healthier by not smoking?

Could one conclude without a doubt that the high tax itself has reduced smoking and improved public health? Or is the state just using that as justification to take advantage of an easy target — smokers — to pad the state budget?

The same questions would be asked if the state imposed a soda tax.

If public health is the main goal, then why not impose the tax on any product that contributes to obesity and heart-related ailments, such all of those holiday goodies listed above?

People might indeed be inclined to drink less soda because of a soda tax, but they also might switch to high-calorie juices or eat more high-calorie foods. And no tax will get them to exercise. So the health benefits are dubious.

Now let’s say state officials fess up and admit that the real goal of the soda tax is to pad the state budget. Consider who they’d be hurting.

Studies show a clear connection between obesity and socioeconomic status. Those with lower incomes and/or education levels are disproportionately more likely to be obese than those with higher incomes and education levels.

Other than smokers, who is an easier political target to pin a new tax on than obese, poor, undereducated people? Do we really want to hit these people harder financially?

The state needs to resist any urge to impose a tax on a single product to reduce its usage. If officials are really concerned about the health of New Yorkers and rising healthcare costs, they need to put more attention on education and preventative medical care.

New York already has enough taxes. It doesn’t need a soda tax, too.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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