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Soft drink tax unlikely to pass in NY Senate

ALBANY - A proposed new tax on sugary drinks appears unlikely to pass the State Senate, despite passionate campaigning by Gov. David A. Paterson and his health commissioner.

Supporters have pushed the tax as a way to combat obesity while bolstering funding for state health programs. But a number of Democratic senators are opposed, along with the entire Republican conference. With a 31-30 Democrat-Republican split in the chamber, the measure isn't expected to draw the minimum 32 votes needed for passage.

"If a party says that it's dead, then they either have to replace the revenue from another source, or pull that back out, cut more," said Dr. Richard Daines, the state commissioner of health. "The debate [with] the health care industry now is that our cuts are too deep . . . even with the soda tax."

The proposal would add a penny per ounce to the price of soda and sugary drinks with less than 70 percent fruit juice. It's been projected to generate $1 billion annually when fully implemented and reduce consumption of the drinks by 15 percent.

At an event yesterday in White Plains, Paterson was met by more than a dozen workers for Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo who oppose the sugar tax and fear it will result in job losses. Both companies have facilities in the state. Paterson met with union leadership privately.

"They made some valid concerns . . . that an excise tax would theoretically cause all beverages, whether they were sugared or not, to increase in price," Paterson said. He said he would look into that, but it still doesn't change the epidemic of obesity, or the budget shortfall.

A spokeswoman for Assembly Democrats declined to speak about the tax's prospects in that chamber. Austin Shafran, a spokesman for Senate Democrats, also wouldn't comment on the soda tax, but several Democratic senators have opposed the measure.

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