Another drink tax?
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The last thing Pittsburghers want is another drink tax. At a time when people are still struggling through a recession, Pennsylvania's beverage industry along with Pittsburgh's restaurants, grocers and voters are understandably concerned about imposing another discriminatory and regressive tax on the city's residents, businesses and visitors.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's so-called "sugary drinks" tax is little more than an expansion of Allegheny County's much maligned "drink tax," which has imposed huge additional tax burdens on restaurateurs and their customers throughout the county. If the Philadelphia plan to tax certain beverages is exported to Pittsburgh, the cost of juice drinks, soft drinks, fountain drinks and even flavored milk could increase significantly -- making grocery prices in Pittsburgh even higher. The cost of some drinks could literally double. In fact, in some cases, the tax could be higher than the retail cost.
Pittsburghers are fed up with high taxes and the ever-rising cost of government. They also do not want government using taxes to tell them what to eat or drink. And they're not alone.
At the end of 2008, politicians in Maine imposed a tax on certain beverages to pay for the state-run health care program. In a November ballot initiative, angry Maine voters rejected the tax by a two-to-one margin. Last year in New York, the governor publicly scrapped his idea to levy a major tax on sugar-sweetened beverages after angry New Yorkers strongly revolted. The governor is feeling the heat for his proposal again this year.
The mayor's plan also could have a negative impact on jobs.
It's a simple formula -- if demand drops for any product, then fewer people will be needed to make and distribute it. On the sales side, imagine the impact on grocery stores and other businesses that already are slammed with high taxes and ever-increasing costs of doing business. For some grocers and restaurants, this plan could be the difference between hiring new staff -- or laying them off. As the Pittsburgh area continues to claw its way out of the lingering recession, the city cannot afford to create another disincentive for businesses in Pittsburgh.
The mayor claims this new tax plan will help combat obesity and make the city's residents healthier. That's a stretch. Taxes don't make people healthier; diet and exercise do that.
An analysis of government data by the National Cancer Institute, submitted to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, showed that only 5.5 percent of the average person's daily caloric intake comes from beverages. That means that roughly 94 percent of their calories come from other foods and beverages. A discriminatory tax on certain beverages, like soft drinks, doesn't even qualify as a good start in the pursuit of better health.
Recent experiences in other states show that a tax won't work. Only two states currently have an excise tax on soft drinks enacted -- West Virginia and Arkansas -- and they rank among the 10 highest obesity rates in the country. We simply cannot tax our way to better health.
When it comes to tackling obesity, what matters most is calorie balance -- balancing the calories from all foods and beverages consumed with those burned through regular physical activity. These are the keys to living a balanced lifestyle -- something the beverage industry supports and encourages by offering a wide variety of no- and low-calorie beverages, providing easy access to calorie and nutrition information and promoting physical activity.
Pittsburghers do not buy the argument that this plan will somehow make the city healthier; nor do they want to be stuck with another drink tax. It's that simple.
First Published March 22, 2010 12:00 am