A Sweet Tax

Not many of us like new taxes, but a proposed penny-per-ounce tax on sugary soft drinks is a right-size revenue-enhancer. Mayor Bloomberg is correct to call on the State Legislature to pass such a tax as a matter of fiscal policy and health policy.

Childhood obesity, or obesity in general, is one of the most important public-health problems of the 21st century, and it’s fair to say that in this battle, sodas are the new cigarettes. Any glance at the contents of a 20-ounce soda bottle, which seems to be the most popular option in a typical Manhattan deli, will tell you all you need to know about these diabetes-makers. With nearly 40 grams of sugar per serving—and those 20-ounce bottles contain two and a half servings—these drinks are a true menace to public health.

The solution? Tax the heck out of them, just like cigarettes. If the price increase leads consumers—and we’re talking about millions of children—to kick the habit, good for them, and good for us. If they can’t abstain, they’ll have to pay the price for their poor choices.

Governor Paterson backed off a soda tax last year when the soft-drink industry screamed. This year, of course, the governor has zero credibility and so cannot be counted on to push for a measure the industry will oppose. Mr. Bloomberg, whose public-health policies have won global acclaim, seems willing to take the lead, and that’s a good thing.

At the end of the day, however, it will be up to legislative leaders in Albany to do the right thing in an election year. Stranger things have happened, as anybody who follows state politics surely knows by now.