A bloated, bankrupt state cannot eliminate obesity 

California faces huge deficits, a weak economy and high unemployment, and it can’t seem to balance its budget. Even so, legislators attempt such impossible tasks as eliminating obesity through — surprise — an increase in taxes.

Assembly Bill 669 was recently introduced by Assemblyman William Monning, D-Carmel, who calls obesity a “public health epidemic.” The measure would impose an excise tax of 1 cent per ounce on any soda, energy drink or sports drink that uses caloric sweeteners and corn syrup. Monning estimates this would raise an annual $1.7 billion for a state Children’s Health Promotion Fund. The money would be “allocated to the State Department of Public Health and Superintendent of Public Instruction.”

Government anti-obesity crusades are not new, and not a partisan issue. The Republican administration of Gov. Pete Wilson imposed a tax on snack foods. In 1999, under Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, the state health department issued a study lamenting the eating habits of Californians and predicting an apocalyptic fate, with disease and death soaring, if they didn’t change. If obesity is now an “epidemic,” the study was evidently a failure.

As for Monning’s measure, a ballpark figure for its effect on obesity is zero. Anti-soda propaganda already abounds and people of all ages consume many drinks and foods that have little or no nutritional value. They are not likely to be deterred by a new tax. Apologists of the measure claim obesity disproportionately affects black and Hispanic people, stereotyped as low-income groups.

Monning would only take more money out of their pockets. His measure is really a shameless end run around budget cuts. And it seems to have escaped notice that the state has an obesity problem of its own.

State and local government spending in California represents 22.3 percent of the state’s economy, about double the level, 11.4 percent, that economists find best maximizes economic growth. California has the 10th-largest state and local government structure in the nation, and remains rather hefty on taxes.

California’s top personal income tax rate of 10.55 percent is third-highest in the country. Our second top rate of 9.55 percent is higher than the highest tax rate in all but three states. It kicks in at $47,055, a relatively low level of income. At a rate of 8.84 percent, California’s corporate income tax is the eighth-highest in the country. The minimum state sales tax is very high at more than 8 percent. Despite our Proposition 13 protections, 14 other states impose lower property tax burdens.

Californians, many of whom are out of work, have every right to tell their government what Clint Eastwood told an overweight detective in “Dirty Harry”: “Go get some air, fatso.” California remains a bloated, overweight state, freighted with useless agencies and addicted to high taxes and profligate spending.

California government is not qualified to hand out dietary advice, much less punish people for their drink choices. Legislators should reject AB 669 along with all new taxes. Instead, they should launch a slim-fast program for California government.   

K. Lloyd Billingsley is the editorial director at the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute (www.pacificresearch.org).

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