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Hard To Swallow

Paterson Proposes Taxing Soft Drinks


Taking a swig from a can of regular soda may cost more than empty calories under Governor David Paterson’s new executive budget. On Dec. 9, in an attempt to boost the economy and close New York State’s $15 billion deficit, Paterson imposed an “obesity tax” on sweetened soft drinks. But some Long Islanders call the tax unfair, saying it targets a specific group of people.
The obesity tax would make non-diet sodas subject to a special fee—18 percent tax to be exact.
“Why should I be punished because I’d rather drink regular Coke instead of Diet Coke?” asks James Laurino, as he waits in line at the Burger King on Jericho Turnpike in Syosset with his three children. “Why not tax the people who can afford to buy champagne and caviar, not those of us feeding our kids at Burger King?” says the Levittown dad, who adds that he will not make his children drink diet soda.
Diet sodas would be excluded from the approximate 15 cent increase on sodas. Milk and bottled water would also be exempt.

Not So Sweet

It’s not just soft drinks that will be levied; Paterson’s new budget will include taxes on items ranging from gasoline to clothing. Not everything is being taxed, however. Expect cuts in Medicaid and education spending. And college students drinking regular soda are in for a double whammy—Paterson will also institute a tuition hike at all State University of New York and City University of New York schools.
Paterson’s 2009-10 budget will close up the $15.4 billion deficit with these cuts to school aid and Medicaid, as well as by calling for state workers to pay more for health insurance.
Even with the taxing of such items and cuts, many New Yorkers are up in arms about the “obesity tax,” but maybe for the wrong reasons. Some Long Islanders are misinformed—believing they will be taxed for being overweight.
“It’s ridiculous to make someone pay for being fat,” said one Kings Park man, who chose not to be identified after learning that the obesity tax is named as such in hopes of preventing obesity, not a fee for extra pounds. Elie Ward, director of policy and advocacy for the American Academy of Pediatrics in New York, says this pre-emptive measure is a good one.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics supports the governor’s proposals on tax on sweetened drinks for the very reason that they are a significant contributor to adolescent obesity. They are liquid candy, a high-calorie, no-protein food,” says Ward, who added that if parents can keep their children from drinking any soda at all, even better.
Still, some feel that calling the tax “preventive” is really sugar-coating the issue of making money—and want answers to the tough questions.
“I understand the idea behind urging people to eat healthier, but diet soda?” asks Lisa Soklowitz, a Deer Park receptionist on her dinner break. “Diet soda has aspartame, that’s not healthy. How about taxing junk food and giving us a break on the astronomical price of organic fruits and vegetables? If you really want people to be healthier, why don’t you make health care affordable?” asks the 26-year-old. Maybe Soklowitz is onto something.
According to the governor’s office, the budget includes a balanced package of revenue enhancements (taxes), which include the additional “18 percent sales tax on non-diet soft drinks to combat obesity and related diseases, with revenues directed to health care.”
And while some are not so pleased with the deal, others feel that Paterson is making the best out of a bad situation.
“He’s cutting from schools and nursing homes,” says JoAnna Fellipe, a 31-year-old stay-at-home mom from Dix Hills, “I think we can live without [non-diet] soda—and hey, if I lose a couple of pounds from it, then Paterson has my vote.”
And if the soda situation is too much for you to handle, you can always go for the wine, which the new budget allows to be sold in grocery stores for the first time. Taking a swig from a can of regular soda may cost more than empty calories under Governor David Paterson’s new executive budget.


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