Tax them for they have sinned.
In short, that’s the premise of two soda taxes appearing this November on the municipal ballots in San Francisco and Berkeley.
San Francisco politicians are seeking a two-cent per ounce tax that would add 88 cents in tax to a 44-ounce Super Big Gulp from 7-Eleven. Berkeley’s tax is less aggressive. At a cent per ounce it would add 44 cents to that Super Gulp.
Consuming too much of anything isn’t good for you. But because someone opts to have three 12-ounce cans of Dr. Pepper a day should San Francisco or any government agency be able to slap 72 cents in taxes on their daily habit based solely on the fact the majority of voters believe it is unhealthy and therefore the tax is justified?
True sin taxes justified on the basis the government deciding what they are taxing isn’t good for you and not because they need revenue to provide essential services was perfected with cigarette taxes.
The cigarette sin taxes — not to be confused with the federal excise tax — were put in place with the expressed purpose of getting people to reduce or quit smoking. And to make the taxes palatable the revenue generated is always diverted — supposedly anyway — to anti-smoking campaigns, cancer treatment programs, and pay for healthcare services, or healthy or education programs for kids.
The Center for Disease Control reports tobacco consumption declined 36 percent during the first decade of this century. A large part of credited to the sin taxes on smokes and antismoking campaigns they have financed.
During the same time period soda consumption has dropped 13 percent without the benefit of a sin tax.
It shows that people are coming to the conclusion that consuming a lot of soda might not be the best thing.
Even so, there have been 30 efforts to slap special taxes on sodas since 2009. And while none have succeeded you have to question whether it is government’s place to try and tax us into behavior that the government or the majority of people want us to pursue simply because they don’t condone it.
Congress — as well as states— has used taxes for years to social engineer. It is a political behavior that never came up on the radar at the dawn of the republic since the role of government was designed to be relatively narrow and limited. It was one of the reasons the Revolutionary War was waged — to secure less government dictates on individual lives.
And while doling out tax credits and tax deductions favoring certain financial behavior such as investing in green energy, buying a home or having kids is one thing putting in place taxes that are so pervasive that they are designed to limit individual choice by making items too expensive for those of low or moderate income is another.
People of substantial income and the wealthy are not impacted by such taxes as the penalty proposed for assessment on sodas. They can afford to continue “sinful habits.” But taking another dollar or so a day out of the pocket of someone making minimum wage who find pleasure in a daily soda like others may find in a daily Starbucks latte or a dry martini after work is draconian and basically discriminatory.
The San Francisco tax as proposed is severe enough that it could force some to give up soda. Yet a person hauling down $200,000 a year or more — think Hugh Hefner and his famous Pepsi habit of up to thirty 16 ounce bottles a day in the 1960s — isn’t impacted severely.
A tax as San Francisco proposes would cost Hefner $9.60 a day if he lived there. He can afford it. And if he’s annoyed by it he could certainly order cases of Pepsi by the truckload from another jurisdiction. In short the wealthy or those that aren’t living week-to-week won’t have their behavior changed by a tax designed to social engineer behavior. And as such, that means the tax is unfair especially in light of the fact it’s not about generating revenue to run government per se but is about trying to force people to march to government’s drum in terms of what they purchase and what they put into their body.
Hefner, by the way, is a healthy 87-year-old.
The battle over soda taxes isn’t really about the need for government funds or health.
It is about the concept of individual freedom.
It’s a scary day when a nation that was created in response in part to an oppressive government opting to tax “luxuries” such as tea is now pursuing sin taxes aimed at punishing those that government leaders and “experts” believe are not engaging in the right behavior by consuming sodas.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.