N.Y. Governor Backs Off Soda, Juice Tax Proposal

Published May 1, 2009

New York Gov. David Paterson (D) has retracted his controversial proposal to impose taxes on soft drinks and other sugary beverages, as the alleged obesity-fighting measure was unlikely to succeed in the legislature.

State budget analysts had expected the proposed 18 percent tax on sweet, sugary juices and sodas to bring in an estimated $400 million in its first year.

Paterson said he intended the legislation to serve as a means of raising awareness about the perceived national childhood obesity epidemic. The revenue brought in from such a tax would go toward implementing more health programs, Paterson had said in several speeches.

Contradicted Health Club Tax

Paterson’s proposal to tax soft drinks and sugary juices appeared to be little more than an attempt to generate more revenue for the state, which is currently facing a $12.5 billion budget deficit.

“Using such a tax to combat childhood obesity is a little wrongheaded,” said New York state Assemblyman Brian M. Kolb (R,C,I-Canandaigua). “If the governor was actually interested in his constituents’ health, he wouldn’t have preceded this proposal with an effort to raise taxes on health club fees and services by 4 percent.”

Combating childhood obesity is more complex than regulating certain foods, said Kolb. “There have been efforts to raise awareness about fat content and sugars in foods, but the more important question to ask is what are the children’s parents doing? We need to have a serious dialogue about this. We need to get kids outside and moving, for their benefit.”

“It’s a slippery slope when we give government the power to decide which foods are healthy and which are not,” said Twila Brase, president of the Citizens’ Council on Health Care. “I think that once you decide that you can tax people for the food that they eat and the drinks that they drink, the bureaucracy will begin to control our decisions. It is not a stretch to say that someday they might be able to eliminate [certain] foods.”

Obesity a Complex Issue

Like Kolb, Brase believes childhood obesity is “not as simple as eating.”

“If people want to draw attention to childhood obesity, they need to understand that eating behavior is much more than just food choices,” said Brase. “There are various factors contributing to childhood obesity: both parents working, a lack of time to make healthier meals at home, a lack of time to sit down around the dinner table, the growth of technology, school safety [worries] and fewer physical education classes, [and] others.

“Attacking people who are fat—[simply assuming] they have made poor food choices—is wrong,” Brase concluded.

Maggie Goode ([email protected]) writes from Georgia.