by Jonathan Decker
Seattle will become the 8th city in the United States to tax sugary beverages, after a 7-1 city council vote yesterday. Since soda consumption has become the “crisis du jour” for liberals looking for an excuse to raise taxes, it is imperative to scrutinize the claims made by soda tax proponents before more cities fall like dominoes for this regressive scheme.
As noted during the Seattle soda tax debate, city officials “repeatedly acknowledged that this tax targets low-income and minority communities by pricing hundreds of different beverages out of their reach. As a result, those who can afford this tax the least will be hurt the most.”
Soda taxes are regressive because lower-income households consume more soft drinks than upper-income households, and because the taxes are levied on a flat rate (meaning they each pay the same added cost per drink).
As evidence of the council’s agreement that this tax increase disproportionately impacts the poor, the city briefly considered shrinking the regressivity of this tax by including diet drinks (which are consumed more by wealthier households), but soon had to back off that proposal in order to properly peddle their sanctimonious sugar/obesity alarmism.
So in the end, Seattle’s city council passed a tax hike that they knew directly targeted the city’s low-income families. Too bad they didn’t follow the lead of progressive champion Bernie Sanders, who stated that Philadelphia’s similar soda tax “targets the poor and the middle class while going easy on the wealthy. That approach is wrong for Philadelphia, and wrong for the country.”
So what do poor families get in return for this estimated $15 million-a-year tax hike? The city council says the money will be used to purchase healthy food (for low-income residents) and education programs.
This sentiment is echoed by Tammy Nguyen of “Got Green,” an organization that works to “put local, healthy food on the table” of low-income households. Nguyen stated the beverage tax “is a significant a victory” “because the new law puts closing the food security gap as the number one investment priority for the tax revenue.” (Emphasis added)
Closing the food security gap? Really? According to Got Green’s website, the greatest obstacle that prevents working families from obtaining healthy food is cost.
Ms. Nguyen, please explain to us: How will taking money disproportionately from low-income residents, redistributing a chunk of it to city bureaucrats and edu-crats, and then using the leftover sum to purchase healthy food leave working families with more disposable income to purchase nutritious groceries?
Fortunately for Nguyen and Seattle’s progressive city council — they never had to convince the public to support their blatantly illogical scheme.
When Santa Fe, N.M., put soda taxation up for a vote (instead of ramming its passage through city council, like in Seattle), low-income residents saw through the liberal elites’ claim that these tax hikes would benefit them.
As The Wall Street Journal noted in Santa Fe:
More interesting is how the vote broke down by economic class. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that in a lower income, largely Hispanic district, 73% voted against the tax, and 69% voted no in the mid-city. But the vote split almost evenly in the city’s affluent north and east sides.
To Nguyen and the Seattle city council — if you believe your regressive tax hike is a net-benefit to the city’s poor, why not let them vote on it?
Perhaps because doing so would undermine a critical pillar of progressive ideology — the belief that people are not smart enough to make decisions for themselves.
When Santa Fe working families were given the facts regarding beverage taxes (notably, via a highly impactful public education effort from the Rio Grande Foundation), they overwhelmingly rejected a tax-and-spend scheme that the city claimed would benefit them.
Unfortunately, from the outside it appears the American Beverage Association (ABA) did little to draw attention to the specific, ridiculous claims put forth by soda tax advocates (very much including the arguments put forth by Got Green). In order to obtain more victories over nanny-state politicians, more work is needed to call out the overt hypocrisy and nonsensical arguments put forth by soda tax proponents.
Photo credit: Ken Teegardin via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0