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Leave The Excuses On The Table And Just Call It A Money Grab

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By Lowell L. Kalapa
(Released on 2/13/11)

Taxpayers shouldn’t be surprised that both the administration and lawmakers are coming up with all sorts of platitudes about how we should lead healthier lives and contribute back to the community that are smoke screens for raising taxes.

Last week we looked at the administration’s attempt to tax pension income and how ill conceived it was from a mechanics point of view, treating taxpayers differently depending on the source of retirement income. It was noted that this grab for money stems largely from the fact that, as taxpayers, we blithely allowed lawmakers to add on all sorts of programs and services over the years. As a result, the demand for general fund moneys soared out of control until the hard reality of a slowing economy put everything on the chopping block.

After two straight sessions of raising taxes and squeezing the last drop out of the taxpayer stone, lawmakers have returned with increased fervor to raise even more taxes. Taking the lead on this is the administration calling on all segments to contribute their share and make the necessary sacrifices to keep the state afloat.

Not realizing that lawmakers have tapped almost every existing tax and fee known, the administration is now being creative, that is, coming up with excuses for yet another tax. Taking a cue from other states that have been grubbing for money, the administration has now proposed taxing “sugary” drinks because those drinks contribute to childhood obesity. After all, with kids drinking all that soda every day, one can almost believe that sugary drinks, like soda, are the root of all evil when it comes to fat kids.

So why are kids today obese as opposed to when baby boomers were growing up? There was soda available back then as well, but did any of us see childhood obesity as a problem fifty years ago? Even the First Lady has figured this problem out and urged kids to get out and play and move instead of sitting in front of their big flat tv screens or in front of a computer screen. Could it possibly be that children today don’t get the exercise that they did fifty years ago? And how many parents have you heard complaining about how much time their kids are wasting while texting their friends? One has to admit one can’t text while running a football down the street or chasing a baseball on a line drive.

The proposal to tax sugary beverages would whack beverages in a 12 ounce or less container with a ten cent per container tax and for those larger than 12 ounces, with a 25 cent per container fee. It is interesting to note that the measure is not being sponsored by the health department but by the governor’s office, so despite all the brouhaha about taking aim at childhood obesity, it is certainly not coming from the health professionals. It is a money grab pure and simple.

Even the professionals in the field know that it is not just one or two food items, but a whole bunch of changes in life style that have resulted in more than 16 percent of the Islands’ population of children falling into the obese category. John Rosemond, author of the Parent Power column in the daily paper notes that, “the reason so many of our children are obese is because they consume too much bad stuff and move too little. Their diets are high in bad carbohydrates (i.e., junk food) like french fries, soda and sweets and low in fresh vegetables, fruits and healthful sources of protein. They spend entirely too much time in front of televisions, video games and computers and not enough time in physical activity. And make no mistake, the best physical activity for a child is free play. A child enrolled in an adult-micromanaged sport is not getting half the exercise kids got playing sandlot games in the 1950’s and ’60s, when childhood obesity was rare.”

He goes on to note that, “In rare instances a medical issue might precede childhood obesity, but the typical overweight kid has a lifestyle problem. As such, the solution is for parents to begin making their children’s weight a high priority. Yes, schools need to eliminate carbo-load lunches along with soda and snack machines, but in the final analysis, childhood obesity is going to be prevented and solved at home.”

So taxpayers, much as elected officials would like us to believe that they are slapping these taxes on us for our “own” good, they amount to nothing more than a money grab to maintain the status quo in their free-wheeling spending. As the professionals have noted time and time again, childhood obesity is going to take more than taxing sodas, that it is indeed a change in lifestyle. If they are going tax sodas, why not Twinkies or for that matter cell phones and Blackberries? Nah, it’s just a grab for your pocketbook!

Lowell L. Kalapa is the president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii. Mr. Kalapa’s commentary is printed each week in the Maui News, West Hawaii Today, Garden Isle News, and the HawaiiReporter.com.


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