A group of tax analysts are cautioning federal lawmakers to do their research before taxing soft drinks and other sweetened beverages, a concept currently being considered by some policy-makers.
In a paper published this week by Tax Analysts, authors Chuck O'Toole and Nicola M. White warn lawmakers that such taxes will be a tough sell with the public, thus encouraging policy-makers to learn the recent lessons from two states.
The authors remind federal policy-makers that earlier this year New York's governor proposed almost the identical tax on sweetened beverages that the Senate Finance Committee will be reviewing today. And just months after proposing the tax, the governor and senior legislative leadership called a news conference to publicly pull back the idea because of the strong public backlash.
Last year, the governor and legislature in Maine proposed a major tax on beverages to pay for the high costs of its state health care program. The people of Maine rebelled by using a provision called the "people's veto" to overturn the tax by a two-to-one margin on the November 2008 ballot (yes, the same ballot on which Mainers gave overwhelming support to President Obama.)
The Tax Analysts article quotes Verenda Smith of the Federation of Tax Administrators as saying: "When I heard of the federal idea, my first thought was, 'Good luck,' and the second was, 'Did they even think to look at the experience the states have had?'"
Ms. Smith went on to add this about soda tax proposals: "It does seem to offend people's sense of what it feels like to be an American."
The bottom line is that the public has shown disdain for soft drink taxes for many reasons, from economic concerns to the illogic of singling out one product for taxation. But the public seems to have allies in many tax professionals in being downright uncomfortable with lawmakers using the tax code to tell people what to eat or drink. This is viewed as an over-reach by government.
Tax Analysts describes itself as "a nonprofit publisher that provides the latest and most in-depth tax information worldwide. By working for the transparency of tax rules, fostering increased dialogue between taxing authorities and taxpayers, and providing forums for education and debate, Tax Analysts encourages the creation of tax systems that are fairer, simpler, and more economically efficient. To further our public-service mission, we supply a variety of information resources for tax professionals."
It's good to see a community that is expert at tax policy weighing in with some common sense. Their message is one we hope federal lawmakers pay heed to as they tackle an admittedly tough challenge in improving health care in America. There are better ways at this problem, as this blog has listed before.