Monday, March 01, 2010

Coke Or Pepsi?

Soda Tax Or No Soda Tax?

We've heard the radio ads and seen the TV spots, pro and con. A healthier New York on the one side. Just another tax on already overtaxed NYers on the other.

Make no mistake, a soda tax, by this or any other name, is, indeed, a tax, designed to raise much-needed revenue and narrow the deficit. Yes, it will take a heck of a lot of sody pop to do that. Guess what? We drink a heck of a lot of sody pop. By most accounts, the average American consumes 46 gallons of sugar-sweetened beverages every year. [And New Yorkers are, by no means, average.]

No one (other than the soda bottlers and industry lobbyists) could argue, at least with a straight face, that anything that gets obese New Yorkers to cut down on those deadly, belly-fat inducing, teeth-rotting sugary beverages is not a good thing.

Still another tax? You bet.

On the other hand, how else -- and in what less painful ways -- would you suggest to close the gap between money in the till and what it takes to operate a State?

The American Beverage Association is against the soda tax. Of course.

The Alliance for a Healthier New York suuports the soda tax. No doubt. Then again, they're not so much concerned about your death by sugar as they are about sweetening their own pots.

New Yorkers on the street appear to offer a divergence of opinion on the idea of taxing sugared drinks, and while they oppose the imposition of a soda tax, per se (as they do every other tax), NYers overwhelmingly support the soda tax as a means to balance the State budget.

Any time a tax or fee or surcharge is mentioned as a possible remedy, we scream like, well, howling monkeys. [We were going to say, scream like Banshees, but that wouldn't be politically correct. Besides, does anyone know what a Banshee is anymore?]

Propose a cut -- to schools, municipalities, medicaid -- and we cringe.

A soda tax, like its predecessor, the cigarette tax, may be unpopular with the consumer, however, it is a virtually foolproof way to raise significant sums of cash for the Empire State, without disrupting essential services or adding to the burden of, say, the income tax or the general sales tax.

And face it, there is the potential benefit -- assuming soda drinkers scale back a bit to save some pocket change -- of a healthier, or at least less obese, New York.

No one likes taxes. That's a given. Still, among the difficult choices to be made in these fiscally tumultuous times, do we tax the likes of soda and other sugared soft drinks, or do we cut aid to public schools, and financially abandon our city and state university systems?

Do we cash in on that Coke to help fill the State's coffers, or do we shutter libraries, hospitals, and police precincts?

Of course, this discussion may well be academic, given a now lame duck governor, who was, otherwise, ineffective and unconvincing, and a State Legislature, on the ballot in its entirety this fall, that is unlikely to tax the obvious and the popular. [Not to worry. State lawmakers will find much more insidious ways to grab our wallets.]

In the scheme of things, a tax on soda, while no magic elixor for the financial ills of New York, is more palatable -- or at least less painful -- than the energy surcharges, motor vehicle fees, and sundry other additions to the tax base that pick our pockets without the slightest arguable benefit, to health or otherwise.

A soda tax may be hard to swallow for NYers, particularly those who start their day with a Coke in one hand and a jelly donut in the other, but truth be told, there's much more than a nickel to be made in those cans and bottles, and, as much as we hate to admit it, we'd all be alot healthier if we shed those pounds that inevitably follow that mad sugar rush.

And so, if our mantra remains, "they'll take that soda from our cold, fat hands," go ahead, Albany -- Tax at will!

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