Last week Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, became the second city in the country to impose a sales tax on soda.
The nannies in our society — who see the hoi polloi as mindless fools in need of protection from themselves — praised the move as a public health victory.
While the city of brotherly love might seem far away in both geography and politics, if some have their way Alabama will be following suit. Ironically, one of the most Republican states in the country is considering following the model of both Philadelphia and Berkeley, California, and levying a tax on sodas.
Advocates say such a tax is justified because the proposed nickel-per-can tax would generate $200 million annually for the state and finance the $85 million gap in the state’s budget due to the increased cost of Medicaid.
The reasoning for targeting soda is there are those who can’t control their desires for these fizzy concoctions of chemicals, sugar and water, which experts say contributes to the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Therefore, advocates for the tax say, excessive consumption of soda is a burden on the government’s coffers.
The proposed Alabama tax would be placed on the manufacturers and not directly on the consumers. However, as these things always go, that cost to the manufacturers will be passed on to the consumer and if the cost of these beverages are higher, tax proponents presume, Alabamians might be deterred from drinking them.
It’s funny to imagine such an effort has any kind of traction in the state of Alabama. A group of people who think they’re better than you are going to tell you that you need to pay more because you can’t be trusted to keep your little grubby hands from tilting a bottle back and chugging that Coca-Cola.
Why not include sweet tea in the mix? I’m sure that would only add to the effort of winning over the public.
The truth is, social engineering through the tax code is a fool’s errand. That’s not the intended purpose of taxation.
The government has tried this effort already with cigarettes, which are much more toxic than sugary drinks. Over the last few decades, states used the same justification to impose taxes on tobacco products, arguing it is was an undue burden for society to have to take on the preventable health problems caused by tobacco.
Depending on the state, you could be paying as much as $4 extra for a pack of cigarettes than what they would cost normally. Initially people paid it, giving the government a source of revenue. And as governments are prone to do, they became reliant upon that income stream.
But a funny thing happened. All the anti-smoking propaganda and taxes actually started to work. More and more people quit smoking or never started in the first place. That led to another problem: less tax revenue. New York, New Jersey and the District of Columbia faced budget shortfalls because of cigarette tax income drying up.
But fewer smokers, less need for spending from the government, right? Not necessarily. According to the Centers for Disease Control, spending on smoking-related health problems continues to increase, with government sources picking up 60 percent of the $170 billion price tag.
That points to rethinking the government’s role in the smoking/taxation/health care equation.
If the soda police were to get their way in Alabama, what would happen next? What would happen to the thousands of workers in Alabama employed by Coca-Cola and Pepsi bottler Buffalo Rock? Is the government willing to absorb the impact on the state’s economy?
What will be the government’s preferred thirst quencher? Will people just make their own sugary drinks — sweet tea, Kool-Aid, do-it-yourself soda makers? Or will there be a cottage industry of state-line soda stands, like the fireworks vendors that have sprung up on the Alabama-Florida and Alabama-Georgia state lines?
Things aren’t going so well in Montgomery — criminal conviction in the legislature, sex scandal in the governor’s mansion and insanity in the state’s high court. A push for a soda tax probably will not do much to improve that situation.
Trying to disguise it as a “usage fee” instead of a tax, as some proponents are doing, is an insult to the public’s intelligence. It is an increase in taxes and historically Alabamians have not reacted favorably to any such proposals.
Why should any of this be a function of government in the first place?
Diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay — those are all bad things, but at some point people have to make the right decisions regarding their health. Aside from the really dangerous things that have public safety risks, such as hard drugs, alcohol, etc., the most the government should be doing is making people aware of health risks from certain products, but that’s where it should end. That’s the whole point of a free society.
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