Gov. David Paterson is planning to include an “obesity tax” in his 2009 budget bill. The tax will add a 15 percent tax on sweetened drinks, but exempt no-calorie drinks such as diet soda and bottled water.
“Soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks are the leading single contributor to obesity,” Elie Ward, director of policy and advocacy for the American Academy of Pediatrics in New York, told Albany reporter Joseph Spector.
Well that’s putting window dressing on Paterson’s brazen attempt to fill the state’s budget gap with a new and, decidedly random, tax. (If the tax seeks to address childhood obesity, why not put an extra tax on fast-food, video-games, towns that don’t have sidewalks so that kids can walk or bike to school?) The real goal of this tax is not to aid in children’s health, it’s to generate revenue.
The thing that’s so irksome about this proposal is that it misses an opportunity to do something better that would bring in money to the state and clean up the environment at the same time. Instead of this half-baked “obesity tax” idea, the governor should bring back the bigger, better, bottle bill — a proposal that would be more equitable and would go a long way to promoting recycling, cleaning up roadside trash and reducing the stress on overstuffed landfills.
The Bigger, Better, Bottle Bill, you might recall, was a proposed in former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s budget package in 2007, but went nowhere. It would have expanded the bottle deposit law to include most noncarbonated beverages, including the ubiquitous water bottles.
In theory, the bottle deposit doesn’t generate revenue because those who return their bottles get the money back. In reality, it is a big cash cow, since millions of people refuse to bring their bottles back to the store. When the bigger, better, bottle bill was proposed, it was estimated that it would generate $180 million a year in unclaimed deposits.
The proposed obesity tax is unlikely to make many overweight children to shed their extra pounds. On the other hand, experience has already proved that putting a deposit on bottles takes them out of the waste stream.