Soda taxes once looked to be the wave of the future. Not only would they raise revenue for perpetually cash-strapped cities, but they would supposedly counter the obesity epidemic.
But people hated them. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the first big city mayor to enact a soda tax, was perpetually saddled with the image of the nation’s self-appointed caretaker as people mocked the nanny-state measure.
Yet other communities passed such a tax. Now, one city has repealed the soda tax.
Passed last year as a supposed “measure” against obesity and other health issues, the so-called ‘Chicago Soda Tax’ has officially been repealed. On Wednesday the Cook County board committee voted 15-2 to repeal the tax on sugary beverages and soda after months of complaints from stores and small business owners.
Naturally, the board warns that the repeal will leave a $200 million budget shortfall.
It appears that these same board committee members were contemplating raising their own salaries. Yeah…that wouldn’t have looked good for them, I suspect.
The budget shortfall seems to always be the response to eliminating a tax, and I don’t doubt it’s significant, but that was never the stated purpose of the tax. No, it was a kind of social engineering designed to keep people from drinking sodas and becoming obese.
The problem is, it was never going to work. Obesity is a complicated thing. People don’t become obese just because they’re drinking too many sodas or eating too many candy bars — not on a societal level, at least. There are numerous factors that often play into someone becoming obese, and it’ll take more than a tax on soft drinks to change that.
But then again, the soda tax wasn’t really about combatting obesity either. That was the stated purpose, but it was really just political theater. It was simply a way for politicians to be seen “doing something” about a perceived societal problem. It doesn’t have to actually work, it just has to look like the problem is being taken seriously.
Which, of course, is a huge chunk of politics these days.
Most problems like obesity are complicated and won’t be solved with a simple answer. Yet politicians keep looking for simple answers because the public doesn’t like complicated answers. They like soundbites. They like “soda tax” because it sounds like it’s something that might work. After all, don’t people drink a lot of sodas these days?
When it doesn’t work, it’s no matter. The politicians are out of office and on to bigger and better things. They don’t care anymore.
At least these guys in Cook County had enough sense to get rid of it before it went on for too long.