Last year, Governor David A. Paterson put forward a proposal that outraged Queens citizens. He tried to pass an 18-percent tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, which would have cost all New Yorkers an additional 55 cents when purchasing a 12-pack of soda.
Thankfully, consumers from Queens, the other boroughs and all New Yorkers fought hard against this ridiculous tax – until they won and the Governor backed down.
However, it does not end there. Paterson is back with an insanely high tax proposal that would increase the cost of everyday grocery products like soda by up to 50 percent. Think about your favorite drink. With this extra tax, you would have to pay $1.44 more for a 12-pack of it. That is on top of the current state tax that New Yorkers already pay! In other words, if we let this tax go through, all consumers who purchase these beverages in Queens will be taxed TWICE for their favorite non-alcoholic drink.
Not only will this extra tax dig into the wallets of hardworking New Yorkers who are already feeling penny pinched, but this will have a direct negative impact on the Queens economy by taking away business from local grocers and supermarkets, who continue to support so many local neighborhoods in hundreds of communities.
As one of the largest industries in the state, the beverage industry currently supports thousands of well-paying jobs, totaling approximately $6.7 billion in wages. These statewide jobs are held in manufacturing, distribution and retail, and this unfair tax will dramatically impact individuals and the industry as a whole. The non-alcoholic beverage industry in New York State has a direct economic impact of $7 billion per year and supports an additional $18 billion in economic activity.
Many small, independent supermarkets and bodegas are already struggling in this economy. In the past six years, one-third of New York’s small supermarkets have closed. Moreover, since 2007, the number of bodegas has decreased by nearly one thousand.
If New Yorkers stop buying their favorite drinks because their costs become financially out of reach, picture the drastic domino effect to follow in a key industry upon which New York State depends.
On January 26, the Food Research and Action Center released a Gallup survey, which asked, “Have there been times in the last 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?” In Queens Congressional Districts Six and Seven, 21 percent and 22.5 percent of respective households with children reported that buying sufficient food was a problem.
Yet, even in light of this study, Paterson wants to make certain beverages virtually unaffordable. These are beverages that New Yorkers enjoy every day, including soda, fruit drinks, sports drinks, iced teas, energy drinks, enhanced waters, and coffee drinks.
Why tax these drinks that New Yorkers love? The Governor is hiding behind health, when – in reality – this is not a health issue. Science shows that balancing calorie intake is what is most important in trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. New Yorkers who want to consume their favorite beverages in moderation should not have to pay a financial penalty.
The real issue here is how to close the serious budget gap. After New Yorkers vehemently fought this tax last year and won, the Governor is now proposing a HIGHER tax this time around.
This tax is NOT pennywise; it will create an enormous hardship for individuals and businesses and is absurd at a tough time like this. Queens citizens need to fight back once again. They can go to www.nobeveragetax.com and, from there, send a message directly to state senators and assemblymembers. New Yorkers said “no” last year – and they meant it. Now, they need to tell the Governor “no” again in 2010.
Nelson Eusebio is executive director of the National Supermarket Association and the Chair of New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes, a coalition that includes thousands of New York citizens and business groups.