Shortly after my blog criticizing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on sugary drinks in containers of more than 16 oz, I read the Boston Globe’s Yvonne Abraham piece offering an alternative solution, and it’s worth passing along.
Massachusetts exempts most food products from the state sales tax, now at 6.25 percent. Given how regressive that tax is, the exemption makes sense for life’s necessities, including basic nutrition. However, also included in that exemption are sodas and other sugary products, including candy, that are not life necessities. In fact, they are the antithesis. They have little to no nutritional value and instead contribute to the obesity that is associated with diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions that bloat the nation’s health care pricetag.
According to The Boston Foundation’s report on Massachusetts health, “a child’s chance of becoming obese increases by 60 percent for each additional sugar-sweetened beverage consumed each day.”
Massachusetts is one of just a handful of states that have the sales tax exemption for soft drinks and candy. Eliminating it could generate as much as $50 million a year. Newton Rep. Kay Khan wants to do just that and tried to amend the just-passed House health cost control bill to reflect that goal. According to Abraham, House Speaker Bobby DeLeo sees this as adding a tax, not ending an exemption, and, like Republicans in Congress, could never, ever pass that in an election year.
Supporters of eliminating the sales tax exemption urge the proceeds be spent on nutrition education and other health programs. That sounds good, though history suggests that anything that goes into the state’s General Fund will eventually be used for other purposes. Even so, if the extra tax on products that contribute to chronic illness deters some excessive consumption, that’s a good thing. Let’s hope it makes it into the next state budget, election year or not.