Pittsburgh is taking notes from the flawed playbooks of other municipalities across the country. Recently, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl expressed support for Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter's 2-cent-per-ounce soda tax in the name of fighting obesity and making Pittsburgh residents healthier.
Despite the suggestion of some policymakers, taxes don’t make anyone healthier - a balanced diet and exercise do that. Quite simply, a healthy lifestyle can’t be dictated by the tax code or other over-reaching legislation. Addressing concerns about health and wellness are most effectively done through education about the importance of nutrition and exercise.
A national poll released recently by Rasmussen Reports shows that 56 percent of Americans oppose a tax on soft drinks, strongly believing that lawmakers are far more interested in raising money for more government than in using tax revenue for public health.
The Rasmussen research underscores that Americans are weary of more taxes, highly skeptical that the revenues would go to anything other than bigger government, and extremely leery of the government using the tax code to tell them what to eat or drink. Only 33 percent of respondents support an additional tax on soft drinks.
The survey also found that 73 percent of respondents believe that lawmakers who support a tax on soft drinks are more interested in raising additional funds for government. Only a meager 17 percent believe that the same lawmakers are interested in improving public health. Importantly, the Rasmussen survey found a staggering 86 percent of people say that it is not within the government's realm of responsibility to dictate what their constituencies eat or drink - a clear and strong rebuke of a tax on soft drinks or other sugar-sweetened beverages.
The Rasmussen data is reinforced by real world actions where soft drink taxes are being rejected. Last year, Congress chose not to pursue a soda tax to pay for health care reform. In 2008, the state government in Maine imposed a tax on soft drinks and other beverages to pay for the state-run health care program. In a November ballot initiative, angry Maine voters rejected the tax by a two-to-one margin. And in New York, the governor publicly scrapped his idea to levy a major tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in 2009 after angry New Yorkers strongly revolted. And after proposing it again this year, the governor is feeling the heat once again from constituents fed up with taxes and the nanny state.
With this in mind, Mayor Ravenstahl should abandon the ill-fated soft drink tax idea before he gets too far into the proposal. As Tony Crisci, executive director of the Pennsylvania Beverage Association, said in yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Pittsburghers are fed up with high taxes and the ever-rising cost of government." In addition, the negative impact on jobs is salt in the wounds during a recession which has effects both wide and deep across Pennsylvania, the country and beyond.