So on Friday I was on my way to a lecture by a possible NYU Food Studies visiting prof (one of the ones I posted about last Tuesday, actually), when what should greet me at the end of my block but a Coca-Cola delivery truck with a banner on the back:
The fold in the top of the banner makes it hard to read, but the whole message is:
Governor Patterson’s beverage tax would increase the price on your favorite beverages up to 50%!
The last thing New Yorkers need is another tax.
and then there’s pictures of the aforementioned beverages, the name of the sponsoring group (New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes), and web, Facebook, and Twitter links to said organization. The official NYAUT About page claims to represent “a coalition of concerned New Yorkers â€“ hard working individuals, struggling families, and already burdened small businesses” but lists no individual or family members, only a variety of businesses and business associations, from individual delis and diners on up through grocery stores and supermarket chains to to the usual suspects: Coke, Pepsi, and the Corn Refiners Association. No big surprises there. (“Dear consumers: Please support our efforts to keep making money off you. Love, Big Business.”) Then there’s the campaign’s mission:
The coalitionâ€™s primary aim is to prevent the enactment of unfair and misdirected beverage tax increases that could cost our state over 6,000 jobs. Our coalition understands that New Yorkers are already among the highest taxed citizens in the nation; that we canâ€™t tolerate a regressive tax that disproportionately targets middle and lower income New Yorkers; and that we wonâ€™t be fooled by Albany trying to control our lifestyle by policing what we eat and drink.
and here’s where I get even more deeply ambivalent than I was before. Because soda taxes are deeply regressive, and I’m very uncomfortable with food policy measures that attempt to inspire better eating by making foodâ€”any food, even “worthless” ones, which Michelle and commenters rock hereâ€”more expensive for people who are already struggling with the cost of eating well. I know, I know, blah blah blah, there’s costs to eating badly, they’ll pay for it later with medical bills, we’ll all have to pay for it because of that gosh-darn socialist healthcare, etc. etc., etc. But it still really bothers me that we can’t go bigger-picture with these interventions than “make people who can’t afford food pay more (for the crappy stuff that’s cheap thanks to government sponsorship of unsustainable monocultures, corporate agribusiness, and oh yeah, that whole environmentally disastrous cheap oil-based transportation system of ours.)” Sigh.
I mean, if we’re going to push around people with prices, why can’t we at least make soda more expensive by taking money out of the pockets of the rich corporations that make it? Let them pay the price in more than just lost sales; they can afford it! (Now I’m genuinely curious what the different effects would be of taxes at the producer, processor, distributor, retail, and consumer levels. Because I am that kind of dork.) As New York magazine recently asked, Why tax soda that we already subsidize? The answer, of course, is that the companies that benefit from agricultural (and corporate, and transportation system) subsidies are way more powerful than the poor people who might be forced to change their eating behaviors in response to a soda tax. Also, many of the subsidies and screwed-up energy and transportation policies are federal-level, and the tax in question here is just for New York State (and linked to our unpopular governor, no lessâ€”that’s smart PR on the NYAUT folks’ part). So that’s a mess, and one that adds up to a proposed policy of giving businesses a pass while poor people contribute disproportionately to whatever (hopefully good) cause it is that the soda tax revenues are intended to fundâ€”but I’m depressingly certain that money won’t go towards antipoverty measures or even improving food benefits so more people can afford to eat well (and even if it does, it’ll be to avoid budget cuts in those areas, rather than actually spend more on them). Food benefits, after all, are federal, and the proposed tax is state.
I wish there were a way to broker some kind of deal where lawmakers promise to drop the soda tax plan in exchange for some (but not all) of the funds businesses allocated towards fighting such a tax, to be spent on the aforementioned antipoverty measures and food benefits and such. Businesses save part of the money they would have spent on anti-tax campaigning, and government gets some money for whatever it is the tax was supposed to raise funds for. Yeah, I can dream. In my dreams, it also stops being gray and rainy outside and I never lose my connection to the TracyFood server in the middle of writing a post (which totally happened during this one, eek-I’m-glad-nothing-was-lost).