To explain, this was my floating of an idea that could serve as a funding mechanism for what I consider to be a very serious health problem – childhood obesity. In these tough times, funding is scarce and finding creative ways to finance important undertakings is in desperate need. Personally, I think the soda tax is going to have some legs, but at this point it was really me pushing it.
In highlighting the issue I quoted from the Time Magazine article which stated, “Proponents of the measure say the tax will curb the consumption of sodas, energy drinks and sweetened teas which are contributing to the country’s obesity epidemic and Type 2 diabetes. Harvard researchers found in a 2013 study that increasing the price of a 20 oz. soda by 20 cents led to a 16% sales drop.”
I see it differently, again as a funding mechanism by which we might be able to finance more nutritious school breakfasts and some health programs that might be able to help low income people make better choices, especially for their children.
I thought this was a modest enough proposal that people on the left and the right could get behind it. As someone pointed out to me – I’m probably the one person in this city who would be most affected by a soda tax, as I drink an inordinately large amount of soda. So it’s not like I’m floating a tax that would have no impact on me.
Still, I find the comments interesting. For instance, one reader said, “That didn’t take long. The suggested better beverage default at restaurants has turned into a tax proposal.”
In a way, I guess that’s true, although it was strictly my doing. As I said prior to yesterday, there was no proposal for a soda tax. However, that might change.
Then there’s this slippery slope argument. As one person wrote, where do you draw the line? “There are all kinds of foods that fall under unhealthy food choices. Should we start taxing all foods that some liberal decides is bad for us?”
I don’t see that as a slippery slope for a number of reasons. First, even in places like Davis, it is hard to impose new taxes. Most taxes require a vote of the people. Some require a two-thirds vote. They are long and cumbersome processes to implement.
Second, governmental resources have become scarce. Part of the reason I have pushed back so hard on employee compensation is that it becomes a hindrance to being able to fund the type of programs that I think we actually need. Employee compensation not only diverts a huge amount of money to an existing group of employees, but it raises the costs of new programs, new development, new infrastructure – everything.
My point here is that we need to push back on both sides. I’m perfectly willing to hold the line on employee compensation, but we when we identify clear needs – and childhood obesity and the health implications that go with it are clear needs – we need to be creative in identifying funding mechanisms.
A couple-cent tax on soda, even for someone like me who drinks a lot of soda and doesn’t have a lot of money to begin with, is not going to be a huge burden.
Where do we draw the line? I don’t see lines to be drawn. The calculus is simple: identified need, identified funding mechanism, willingness of the voters to support both the proposed solution to the need and to pay the tax. The line gets drawn at the point where the public says no.
Finally, I want to address the libertarian argument that was raised by Frankly. He said, “My libertarian brain cells are in conflict with my food snobbery brain cells. But my libertarian brain cells are winning and repeating the same practical point to… stop banning and taxing and criminalizing things that: 1. Only harm the person using them; 2. Don’t cause enough real harm in consideration of the alternatives; 3. Are simply personal preference and a manifestation of the freedoms this country was founded on.”
First, I actually agree with most of this point. Although, my preferred solution to the war on drugs is to legalize drugs, regulate them and tax them. As such, I don’t believe in using taxation as a mechanism to get people to stop engaging in a behavior. What I believe in using taxation to do is to fund programs that are needed and carve out funding streams from behaviors that are discretionary.
As such, a fast-food tax might be an interesting way to fund health initiatives, as well. But we are not there yet, at least right now.
What I see is the need for the city, county, and school district to work together to create a healthier array of choices for vulnerable, low income students. As I have noted, the sugary breakfasts that the schools offer low income students are a huge problem.
Not just a health problem either. What one person told me is that students, who sugar up in the morning, end up crashing mid-morning and becoming less productive in school. So the nutritional issues are not just health issues, they are educational issues.
Frankly cited an interesting Wall Street Journal article, noting, “The Santa Clarita Valley school systems in California lost $250,000 in cafeteria sales last year when students rejected healthier fare designed to meet new federal nutrition standards. Now the districts are trying to win back diners by hiring a chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu, the prestigious culinary school.”
That is the basis of the crunch lunch program, which I have been told has been very successful. I went to a Chamber luncheon earlier this year and the food served was basically the same food being served in the school district. It was healthy and very tasty.
That is where we need to go with breakfasts. With partnerships and possibly funding mechanisms, it might be possible to provide these breakfasts to everyone.
To me that’s just a start. I think we seriously need to address these issues and, hopefully, my pushing this will act as a catalyst for our local elected officials to start acting.
—David M. Greenwald reporting