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A SWAT for a ‘fat bill’ and its misguided goals

Submitted by on Thursday, 14 May 2009 No Comment

New York Assemblyman Felix Ortiz has been ahead of the curve on a number of issues, sponsoring legislation that probably drew chuckles when he introduced it.

Seven years ago, he was responsible for the nation’s first law against driving under the influence of a cell phone. Two years later, he helped make it a legal requirement that schools buy locally grown produce.

Going back to his childhood in Puerto Rico he successfully lobbied the governor to create his hometown’s first Little League team, so no one can claim he’s interested in childhood fitness only because it’s a political flavor of the day.

His latest pitch, though, is more of a screwball: Assembly Bill A02455, which would add a quarter-cent sales tax to snack foods and sweets, movie tickets, video and computer games or equipment and movie rentals.

A “fat tax” is not a new idea. It’s been around since the 1970s, gaining attention though not much traction a decade later. Some states have gone as far as to propose taxing not just food and inactivities with links to obesity, but taxing overweight people as well.

Ortiz has been trying to get the tax passed for a number of years, though he’s backed down from his original 1-cent surtax.

In this era, sin taxes are all the rage.

Ortiz himself has proposed a few more, one on strip clubs and another on beer and wine. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has suggested that the state “study” legalizing and taxing marijuana, though he’s stopped short of supporting the plan. A recent increase in the federal tobacco tax helps pay to expand health insurance for low-income children.

In normal times sin taxes are relatively painless ways to raise easy money, and that’s attractive to governments these days. Problem is, in the case of a “fat tax” in particular, a regressive sales tax hits people the hardest who already are just one more thing away from the financial brink.

And unlike tobacco, which is a proven killer when used as intended, movies, video games and junk food are harmless indulgences when used sensibly. It’s just that far too many folks these days ignore the “sensibly” part. That’s why we have an obesity epidemic.

Ortiz has a much better plan in A02627, which would require a half hour of physical education every day at grade schools. That one might require an act of Congress, though, to convince school officials that they can take 30 minutes out of the “teaching the test” schedule to make sure kids have physical skills beyond filling in bubbles on tests.

Guess which idea has a better chance of catching on, though, in a day when governments are grabbing at every quarter-cent they can find.

Assemblyman Ortiz, and anyone else eying a “fat tax,” Stop Wasting America’s Time with levies that would hit the poor harder and do little to change behavior.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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