The so-called soda tax is picking up steam again, a year after Governor David Paterson failed to pass the proposal, prompting many small-business owners in Queens to question the motives of their city government.
Bodega owners and advocates say that such a tax would put them out of business, arguing that small businesses would no longer be able to compete in today’s market with the proposed tax.
“All taxes are critical for small businesses,” said Ramon Murphy, president of the Bodega Association for the United States. “Thirty percent of small businesses are going to be out of business because of the tax; it is going to hurt minorities and small businesses.”
The state wants to impose a tax of a penny per ounce on all sugary beverages, which includes sodas, juices and flavored waters. Diet drinks and water would be excluded from the tax proposal.
State officials say the tax’s main objective is to decrease obesity amongst children, an issue New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) Commissioner Richard F. Daines, desperately hopes to solve. The tax would also raise nearly $1 billion over the next year, and provide funding for health care.
“Obesity rates have risen over three decades, tripling or more among children, and the situation is even worse among minorities and low-income families,” said Daines. “The rise coincides with increased sugary beverage consumption, and we are now at the point where obesity has become the biggest public health challenge of this and the next few decades.”
Both sides are in the midst of a public debate regarding who this tax would truly benefit. The tax is projected to increase the prices of sugared beverages by about 17 percent, while reducing consumption by up to 15 percent, according to the NYSDOH.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg also supports the soda tax, citing the health of children as the primary concern.
“An average sugar drink, a small can, has 10 spoonfuls of sugar in it. The kids are getting an enormous percentage of their calories in sugar drinks. There’s no argument about that,” Bloomberg said. “Do you want to help kids who aren’t old enough to make those kinds of decisions, don’t understand the long-term health implications? Isn’t that adult’s and parent’s job, and society’s job and government’s job?”
While city and state officials say the main issue they want to stress is obesity, but small business advocates question their motives.
“People are going to keep drinking soda. They are not going to stop. They want to get money for the budget,” said Murphy. “They don’t care about the problems we have in the city. If they do care, they are coming from the wrong direction.”
Bodega owners and small-business merchants are divided on the issue as well.
“The taxes will affect the pockets of the small-business owners. The big businesses won’t feel the damage, the small ones will,” said Socrates Aquino, who owns a bodega in Corona. “We will have to absorb the costs because no one is going to want to raise prices. None of the supermarkets will have to absorb those costs.”
“I don’t think the tax will have much of an affect (on consumption),” said Erick Tejeda, a bodega owner from Corona. “Drinking soda is an addiction like cigarettes. People aren’t going to stop drinking soda over a few cents.”