The Arizona Desert Lamp

Pigou attacks in Aisle 8

Posted in Politics by Evan Lisull on 30 January 2009

Pop Cans

A scan of the bills currently making their way through the state House reveals this doozy —  HB 2107, “Providing for a temporary soft drink tax,” sponsored by Tucson’s own David Bradley (who sports hair rivaling Blagojevich’s):

A.  Beginning July 1, 2009 and ending June 30, 2012, in addition to all other taxes, there is levied and shall be collected by the department of revenue the following tax on all soft drinks, soft drink syrup, simple syrup and powders or other base products used to produce a liquid soft drink

It’s always a good day in Phoenix when its legislators are imitating Dave “Who needs elections?” Paterson. One should be instantly skeptical that this tax will indeed be temporary — for some strange reason, ‘temporary’ taxes have a funny way of becoming permanent as soon as they are enacted.

The bill doesn’t state its purpose, but assuming that the Legislature is following the lead of other such taxes, it will be sold as a way to fight obesity while raising revenue. Yet the studies used to support this claim (the claim that an increase in soda taxes will reduce obesity) are highly specious. With Arizona checking in at the bottom third of the state obesity rankings, obesity is not exactly a pressing issue for the state.

As far as revenue goes, the cost will largely be borne by poorer citizens; like their brethren cigarette taxes, these taxes will be highly regressive. A flat income tax, frequently charged as “regressive,” is at least slightly progressive, as it taxes an activity that is taken up in greater proportion by middle and upper classes; smoking and soda drinking, meanwhile, are products consumed in greater portion by poorer citizens, who cannot afford to purchase healthier alternatives. With a flat income tax, there is at least the possibility of a negative income tax; not so with Pigovian taxes, which have ostensible goals outside of simply raising revenue for the state; the Nanny State, it seems, lives on.

The good news is that Arizona requires two-thirds majority in both Houses, and a three-fourths majority if Gov. Brewer vetoes — which, given her conservative/semi-libertarian leanings, she probably will. The test case in New York has been widely unpopular, and will encourage Republicans (and, hopefully, thinking Democrats as well) to rally against this bill. Yet the fact that this bill was even aired does not bode well for Arizona down the road.

First they came for the tokers. And I didn’t speak up because I didn’t smoke pot.

Then they came for the smokers. And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a smoker.

Then they came for the drinkers. And I didn’t speak, because I didn’t like alcohol.

And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up.

NB: For a linguist, the definition also provides an interesting twist:

9. “Soft drink” means any nonalcoholic sweetened beverage that is sold for human consumption.  Soft drink includes sweetened soda water, ginger ale, fruit or vegetable drinks that contain fifty per cent or less natural fruit or natural vegetable juice and other drinks and beverages that are commonly referred to as cola, soda, soda pop or soft drink.

Notice that “Coke,” the term for the beverage that pervades throughout the South (via this awesome map), is not included. “Pop,” the largely Midwest (and, incidently, correct) term, is preceded with the East Coast “soda,” essentially killing that term and forcing Bostonian English upon the great people of Arizona. Hopefully, this insult is just enough to make Midwestern and Southern ex-pats vote against the bill.


One Response

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  1. […] is one thing to support a purely Pigovian tax, that charges smokers in direct proportion to the “costs” that they incur on society. […]

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