The Hunger Action Network of New York State said today that it supported Governor Paterson’s proposed soda tax as a critical anti-obesity initiative, but called for a hefty share of the proceeds to be dedicated directly to anti-obesity and anti-hunger initiatives.
The group also urged lawmakers to support a far more progressive array of revenue options, including halting the $16 billion annually rebated to Wall Street speculators.
“Instead of protecting Wall Street on issues like the stock transfer tax, legislative leaders have to do more to protect Main Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard,” said Mark Dunlea, Executive Director of Hunger Action Network of New York State.
The Governor is proposing a penny per ounce excise tax on sugar sweetened beverages. The tax will reduce sugar sweetened beverage consumption by 15% and subsequently reduce healthcare costs. The tax will raise $465 million this year and $1 billion once it is fully annualized (tax would start in Sept. 2010).
“A soda tax is a critical step in the effort to reduce obesity, especially among children, and to promote better nutrition,” said Andreas Kriefall, Upstate Director of the Hunger Action Network. “Proceeds from the soda tax should be clearly earmarked to support anti-obesity, nutrition and health care programs.” Prior public opinion polls have shown strong support for the soda tax – if it is clearly linked to anti-obesity and children’s health initiatives.
The group pointed out that New York’s system of local and state taxes is regressive, with low-income New Yorkers paying twice as much of their income in state and local taxes as wealthy taxpayers such as Donald Trump. The group favors restoring higher income taxes on millionaires, as well as a property tax circuit breaker to reduce the fiscal hit of local taxes on low and middle income residents.
The state presently collects a few pennies from each stock transfer but then rebates the proceeds – now $16 billion – to traders. There has been increasing interest at the federal level in a national stock transfer tax as an anti-speculation measure following the recent meltdown of the financial markets. Such a tax can begin to check the systemic flaws and rampant greed of the financial markets. In addition, in recent decades, New York has greatly flattened its once progressive personal income tax system, providing annual cuts of over $15 billion primarily to wealthy taxpayers. The cuts in the state income tax rate have forced increases in the more regressive local sales and property taxes.
“Instead of oppressing low and middle income New Yorkers with higher local taxes, lawmakers need to shift more of the burden to wealthy people at the state level. It is clear that the $30 billion in tax rebates and cuts is not sustainable. Rather than deep cuts to essential services, we need to restore fairness to the state’s tax system and raise the revenues needed for robust job creation and affordable housing initiatives, including a significant increase in rent subsidy programs. We need a much higher percentage of the state’s multi-billion federal welfare funds to be dedicated to jobs and job training, child care and raising the state’s basic welfare grant and shelter allowance,” added Dunlea.
While supporting the soda tax, Hunger Action supports using the proceeds both to increase anti-obesity programs and to reduce the regressive nature of the tax, which will hit hardest on low-income consumers. Options supported by Hunger Action include using the funds to increase state subsidies for the school meal program; fund Farm to School initiatives; support programs to bring affordable fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income neighborhoods; increase funding for emergency food programs (HPNAP); and, fund programs to increase purchases at farmers markets, including doubling the value of food stamps (SNAP) used at such markets. The group also supports a state supplement to the food stamp program.
Sugary soft drinks have been pinpointed repeatedly in medical studies as the biggest contributors to our obesity epidemic, which is impacting one in four New Yorkers. Obesity is linked to higher rates of many preventable illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, asthma and hypertension. High sugary soft drink consumption increases the risk of diabetes by 83 percent in women according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Nearly 25 percent of New York's children and 67 percent of adults are overweight or obese, costing $6.1 billion a year to treat diabetes, heart disease and other obesity-related problems. 81 percent of those medical costs are already born by the taxpayer through Medicaid and Medicare payments.
The calories from sugar-sweetened beverages are fundamentally different in the body than those from food. The main sweetener in soda — high-fructose corn syrup — can increase fats in the blood called triglycerides, which raises the risk of heart problems, diabetes and other health woes. This sweetener also doesn't spur production of insulin to make the body "process" calories, nor does it spur leptin, a substance that tamps down appetite, as other carbohydrates do.