Our Opinion: Soft drink taxes restrict freedom, grow government

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A court order is delaying a penny-per-ounce soda tax from taking effect in Chicago, but on the national stage, the nanny state is racking up victories.

Roughly a dozen local governments have begun taxing soft drinks, and Massachusetts is now mulling a statewide soda levy. It may take a while for this kind of nonsense to spread to North Carolina, but unless citizens stand up to the bureaucratic busybodies, it’s only a matter of time.

An Illinois appellate court upheld a temporary restraining order blocking the tax on sweetened beverages in Cook County, which estimated $67.5 million in revenue from soda sales, The Chicago Tribune and television station WGN reported.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association sued Cook County over the tax, arguing that it violates a clause in the state constitution requiring uniform taxation.

Proponents of punitive taxes on soda and sugary sweets say they’re designed to reduce obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other ills. Consumers, they reason, will think twice before guzzling sweetened beverages and may be nudged toward fresher fare.

Yet there is zero peer-reviewed evidence showing the heavy-handed policies to be a panacea for public health. When the Seattle City Council sought feedback from Philadelphia and Berkeley, California, officials reported they “have yet to see any lasting effects from the soda taxes that have been enacted,” according to KIRO-TV.

Meanwhile, the taxes are a windfall for local governments. Cook County officials say they’ll lay off 1,100 employees because the restraining order is starving it of the revenue it needs to pay them. That so many paychecks hinge on fuzzy estimates from an untested funding source is proof of severe financial mismanagement.

Like all forms of “sin taxes,” the sugar levy shoehorns the government further into Americans’ private lives, punishing them for buying legal products. We think cutting back on sugar is a matter for individuals to discuss with their doctors. It isn’t the place for petty functionaries to butt in with unsolicited advice.

Taxing sugar is even more insidious, however, because federal tax subsidies — more than $10 billion a year — give corn farmers an incentive to grow more of the crop than market conditions require. Much of that corn is sold at bargain-basement prices and converted to high-fructose corn syrup, making the commercial sweetener used in most non-diet soft drinks artificially cheap.

American taxpayers are already forking over money for sweetened beverages as a means of agricultural support. Those who live in cities with soda levies are being forced to pay twice.

We aren’t convinced big government cares much about making people healthier. That seems like a convenient veneer, an excuse to extort more money from us, another reason to pick our pockets.

After all, if the policies worked as advertised and folks stopped drinking soda altogether, tax revenues would fall below projections and local governments would have to curb spending.

The nanny state’s OK with you drinking soda after all. It just wants you to pay through the nose.