Bloomberg and Budget Gaps
by Anthony Stasi
Mar 09, 2010 | 2619 views | 0 0 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On Sunday, Mayor Bloomberg suggested that the state legislature should consider a soda tax on full sugar soft drinks. The mayor deserves a lot of credit on this issue. This is where being an independent politician (he really has no particular party ties) has value. Very few politicians take this issue on because it is just not interesting enough on a large scale - there are not too many votes to get with chasing sugar beverages.

Nobody wants to raise taxes, and this is a bad time to introduce a tax hike. Governor (if he is still is when this goes to print) David Paterson tried this in 2008 and it was shot down. Perhaps it was Bloomberg’s suggestion then that made the governor talk about it. Bloomberg is a true believer on this issue, and he has as much passion about sugar soft drinks as he does about smoking.

Oddly enough, this is an issue for which friends I debate a great deal. Most, let’s call them Soda Purists, that turn down diet drinks, are either under 30 years old or they are senior citizens. The younger crowd is bionic; at least it feels that way to them, so they do not worry much about blood sugar levels. Seniors are often hooked on sodas, but the sodas they may have had years ago were made with real sugar. Today, they are drinking a corn syrup substitute.

Unfortunately for senior citizens today, they were the first generation of adults to try NutraSweet and other sugar alternatives. They tried them, and swore off diet drinks the way they still swear off the designated hitter. So they never tried today’s low-sugar drinks, which are not as bad. It seems like no big deal until you look at the rise in diabetes in the last 20 years. With the exception of autism, there are not many diseases or disorders that are growing as quickly.

Does this mean that the government needs to step in and regulate behavior? When you figure that the mayor wants the added money to go to health care and schools, you might consider that you could get taxed for those things anyway. A sugar tax, if Bloomberg had his way, would add a cent per ounce of soda. It would most likely cut down on people buying cases of soda, and it would not really slow down the average person who purchases one can.

When I researched this issue over a year ago, I spoke with experts in South Carolina, Yale, and San Francisco, and at the time, there was no real legislation aimed at sugar soft drinks. We saw what it did to Paterson. Bloomberg will never face another election in his life, but the state legislature will most likely take on issues that go down a little easier.

Counting on More People

The national census that gets taken every ten years might seem like a non-political governmental function, but make no mistake, there is politics in the census. As you may have read, the more people that a state or city can count, the more money that it might be eligible to receive. Some studies claim that with an added 10,000 to 20,000 people, the monetary equivalent is in the millions. But the reason for that claim comes from districting.

You add another few thousand people in a certain area, and you can add a congressional district, which means that you add another congressman. For years, some people – many of them Democrats and academics – have called for a random sample style of counting people. This, they claim, would be more accurate than a one by one count. The reason for this approach is that when a census taker knocks on your door, and you are only allowed to legally house four people, the odds are you will say that four people live there regardless of how many there really are in your home. So the one by one count doesn’t give a true picture.

If you do not want another congressman for that congested area, you might not want the random sample count, and hope instead for the one by one count. Right now, we use mail-in responses that are followed up by visits if necessary, but how many people are going to give accurate counts on their response if they have couch surfer relatives or undocumented people living with them? The random sample style has not been proven to work perfectly either, in total fairness.

If Acorn is the group that tries to get unregistered people to the voting booth on Election Day, there are numbers of other people (not as organized) that might be on the opposite side of the political spectrum that may want to skew the census numbers and not send in their census forms. There is no real proof of that, but you can see the motive for it. Now, however, you have local governments making the effort to get the count accurate, because it means money for their city. Many years ago, it was strictly a federal effort.

The census count gets more difficult every decade. Americans do not want to be counted and recorded on file; it has a very "big government" feel to it, but this are the best ways to craft policy. As one philosophy professor once told me, “when you hunt, you have to go where the ducks are.”

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