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OPINION: Governor's soda tax leaves a sour taste

Nelson Eusebio is the chairman of New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes, a coalition of citizens and business groups.


Last year, Gov. David A. Paterson tried to pass an 18-percent tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, which would have cost New Yorkers an additional 55 cents when they purchased a 12-pack of soda. New Yorkers were so outraged that they fought hard against this ridiculous tax - until the governor pulled back his proposal.

But now Paterson is back with a new, insanely high tax proposal that would increase the cost of everyday grocery products like soda by up to 50 percent. With this extra tax, New Yorkers would have to pay $1.44 more for a 12-pack of soda. That's on top of the current state sales tax that New Yorkers already pay.

In other words, if we let this tax go through, New Yorkers will be taxed twice to quench their thirst with soda, fruit drinks, sports drinks, iced teas, energy drinks, enhanced waters and coffee drinks.

Not only will this extra tax dig into the wallets of hardworking New Yorkers who are already feeling pinched, but it will hurt many local businesses, and our economy in general, throughout the state. The beverage industry currently supports thousands of well-paying jobs - totaling about $6.7 billion in wages - in manufacturing, distribution and retail. This unfair tax will have a dramatic negative impact on individuals and the industry as a whole.

The nonalcoholic beverage industry in New York State has a direct economic impact of $7 billion per year and supports an additional $18 billion in economic activity. But as prices go up, retailers no longer sell as much product - which leads to reduced production by the manufacturers, which ultimately leads to layoffs across the industry.

Many small, independent supermarkets and bodegas are already struggling in this economy. In the past six years, one-third of New York's small supermarkets have closed. And, since 2007, the number of bodegas has decreased by nearly 1,000.

If New Yorkers stop buying these drinks because the costs become financially out of reach, picture the drastic domino effect in a key industry that New York State depends on.

Last week, the Food Research and Action Center released a Gallup survey that asked: "Have there been times in the last 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?" In New York State, 23 percent of households with children reported food hardships, when buying sufficient food was a problem.

And yet, even in light of these struggles, Paterson wants to make some beverages hard to afford. In addition to the state's budget woes, he cites rising obesity rates as the reason for this tax. Certainly, obesity is a valid public health concern. But many peer-reviewed scientific studies show that balancing calorie intake is what's most important in trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. New Yorkers who want to consume their favorite beverages in moderation shouldn't have to pay a financial penalty.

So the real issue here is how to close the serious budget gap. And after New Yorkers vehemently fought this tax last year and won, the governor is proposing a higher tax this time around.

This tax is not penny-wise. It will create an enormous hardship for individuals and businesses and is downright foolish at a tough time like this. New Yorkers need to fight back once again.


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