Penny Here, Penny There

By Jeffrey Page

Here comes Uncle Grump, the governor of New York, to tell you that those extra pounds you’ve gained over the years may have come from drinking Cokes, Dr. Pepper and all those coffee concoctions that come in bottles and seem to end in “cino.”

Watch out, because now that he has unveiled a $134 billion budget proposal – with a built-in deficit of $7.4 billion – Grump also has a plan to generate $465 million in new taxes. Guess who pays.

Governor Paterson’s idea is a new play of an old theme. The state needs cash. So he describes a particular product, usually a popular one – this time it’s sugary soft drinks, but on occasion it has been cigarettes – as dangerously unhealthy. Government to the rescue. So since the product in question isn’t beneficial to you, government taxes it but hopes that because you like it so much you’ll ignore the health warning, keep buying it and pay the additional tax on it.

The insincerity is staggering.

Paterson wants to tax sodas and some other sweetened drinks at the rate of a penny an ounce. A six-pack of Coke would cost you an additional 72 cents.

The Times-Union in Albany quoted State Health Commissioner Richard Daines praising the soda tax because it reduces obesity, saves on future health care costs, and pulls in that $465 million a year. Daines called it “a triple play.” Of course he forgot that he’s talking about a legal substance that millions of New Yorkers enjoy every day.

Question 1: If Paterson and Daines are so concerned about the public’s waistline, why don’t they insist that the penny-an-ounce tax be imposed on sugar sold by the pound at supermarkets? How about a tax on the syrup you like to pour on your pancakes at your favorite breakfast place. And you know that Irish coffee you enjoy on cold winter nights, or the rum and Cokes, rye and gingers and 7& 7s you occasionally sip before dinner out? Tax them, too. Whoa! Paterson isn’t that concerned about obesity. (In case you missed it, we elect a governor in 279 days.)

Question 2: Why are Paterson and Daines not asking that other products be taxed due to their ability to make people gain weight? How about a penny an ounce on butter? A penny an ounce on hot dogs made with lots of fat? A penny an ounce on the sale of cheese Danish? A penny an ounce on salt? And why doesn’t Grump call for an additional tax on wine, not because it makes you gain weight but because it’s a product with a label warning that women who consume alcohol while pregnant run the risk of having a baby with birth defects. You don’t see an alarm like that on a can of root beer.

Answer: Because taxing such things as butter would make a governor, whose popularity is already in question, even more politically vulnerable. One important rule of politics is that you can’t annoy too many constituencies at the same time.

For now, the talk is only about taxing soda. You know, the stuff that kids like and whose consumption ought to be controlled by their moms and dads, not the state. If Paterson is concerned about children gaining weight, he should direct Daines to launch a public awareness program and notify the public of its availability and leave parenting to parents.
Jeffrey can be reached at


3 Responses to “Penny Here, Penny There”

  1. LeeAgain Says:

    Pity the poor politician. Can’t offend the constituencies, can’t offend the corporations who buy the favors. Maybe term limits would put an end to the obsession of doing anything to get elected yet another time. My favorite quote from the play 1776: “This is a revolution, dammit. We’ve got to offend SOMEBODY!”

  2. fromage Says:

    Your points on taxing everything that has sugar are right on.

    So the government wants to help people to consume less sugar, how wonderful of them. Hmmmm! What I do not understand is does the state expect everyone to continue buying soda despite this tax? It appears that they do, given the revenue projects. Does this mean that they will not tax Diet soda because it has no sugar? If so will that impact their revenue projections?

    Now the cost of implementing this tax will be huge because today this special tax does not exist. Maybe this is part of the state’s new jobs program, because someone has to make the changes to the computer systems to handle this tax. I am surprise they did not identify this as a side benefit. However, they probably realize that since people cannot afford to live in this state because of all the taxes that those changes will be made in states where they really are concerned about the life style of their citizens.

    Of course they need the money to support their wonderful efforts to delivery “pork” to their citizens in support of their own re-election efforts. Thank God, no cuts there.

  3. CarrieJacobson Says:

    A smart move would be to say that if a product has a ratio of fat (or calories) to protein of more than X, it will be taxed a penny. Heaven forbid that something that simple made it through the system.

    Also, what about all of us who drink soda, but only drink diet soda???

Leave a Reply