In town to promote a new Obamacare milestone, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Monday swiftly took the fizz out of a separate proposal targeted at improving poor people’s health—a 2 percent tax on high-calorie sugary beverages.
The proposal came from his top New Haven ally, Mayor Toni Harp, a fellow Democrat.
Harp last week included a so-called soda tax in the city’s list of priorities for the new state legislative session.
Malloy stated was asked about it Monday during a press conference at the local Obamacare storefront at 55 Church St. (Click on the video to watch his response.)
“I wouldn’t hold my breath,” the governor said.
He proceeded to argue against ever considering such a tax—even in a year other than 2014, when he faces a tough reelection battle and has been working single-mindedly (like his counterpart in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo) to avoid passing any measure that can show up as a “tax” in a Republican attack ad.
Malloy declared his personal philosophical opposition to the very notion of the tax, which public-health advocates like Yale’s Rudd Center argue can have the most impact in preventing a major cause of adult-onset diabetes, heart disease and other obesity-related problems, problems that disproportionately afflict among the urban poor. Mayor Harp specialized in public-health issues as a state senator and saw directly the impact of poor nutrition on the poor when she worked at Hill Health Center. Soda is a big culprit in the obesity epidemic, Harp argued in pressing her proposal. Consuming just one sugary drink per day increases a child’s risk of becoming obese by 60 percent, she wrote in her legislative agenda narrative. Harp said Harvard researchers have shown that people drank 16 percent fewer sugary drinks when the prices went up. (Click here to read a full interview with her on the subject.) A 2-percent tax on sugary drinks would generate $144 million in state revenue per year, Harp’s staff has calculated. That money could be used to increase subsidies for fresh foods and vegetables, she said.
“I think at some point there’s a degree of personal choice to be made,” Malloy said Monday. “We’re going to apply it to soda, but we’re not going to apply it to fruit juice? We’re going to apply it to Gatorade, or we’re not going to apply it to Gatorade?”
He called Connecticut “a healthy state.” “I don’t believe taxing sugar is the way” is the way to make it healthier, he said.
Malloy’s visit Monday morning marked a different public-health milestone. Access Health CT, which oversees the state’s version of Obamacare (aka the Affordable Care Act), has signed up 121,983 enrollees. It had set a goal of signing up 100,000 people for insurance by the end of March. So it hit the milestone seven weeks early.
In other words, Connecticut continues to offer positive news amid the stumbling, flawed national roll-out of Obamacare.
The New Haven storefront office helped the state reach the goal. It’s one of two storefronts in the state where “navigators’ help people sign up. (The other’s in New Britain.)
“All systems are go, and Connecticut is leading the country,” declared U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro. (She’s pictured above at the event with Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who has led the Obamacare effort for the administration; and Julia Santos, who was by affordable insurance thanks to the new law after having been turned down because of a prior heart attack and aneurism.) DeLauro called her support for the Affordable Care Act “one of the proudest votes I have ever cast.”
About a third of the enrollees are under 44 years of age, according to Access Health CEO Kevin Counihan. That’s an important number—the program needs younger, healthier enrollees to remain viable long-term.
The number of uninsured people in the state has dropped from 344,000 in 2010 to around 286,000 today, Counihan said. He predicted that by the end of March the ranks of uninsured in Connecticut will drop below 8 percent of the population; they had risen as high as 9.4 or 9.5 percent.
After the press conference, Malloy was asked about prospects for his administration coming through this year on a commitment to support a private plan to build a $395 million busy new-urbanist mini-city of apartments, stores, offices, hotel and public plaza (pictured) on the site of the old New Haven Coliseum.
The builder, Montreal-based LiveWorkLearnPlay, claims it will spend about $363 million to develop the block. It hopes to begin construction next summer, said Max Reim, principal of the company. Before then, the project will need “state commitments,” he said. Those include approvals for new infrastructure, including from the Office of the State Traffic Administration. The city has approved kicking in $12 million. That leaves $20 million from the state to help pay for dismantling the initial stretch of the Route 34 Connector mini-highway-to-nowhere and reconnecting the street grid.
Malloy spoke at Harp’s inauguration last month of his general support for the project.
When asked on Monday whether the state will see that $20 million approved this year, he said his transportation department is doing “due diligence.” He said crucial questions remain to be answered. Such as:
• “Are the numbers assigned by the developer representative of what it would actually cost?”
• Is the street reconstruction feasible?
• Will the work exacerbate traffic back-ups caused by the current work going on to dismantle the end stretch of the mini-highway in order to make way for the 13-story 100 College St. biomedical tower?
Turning to the Coliseum redevelopment, the $20 million from the state is for a transportation improvement project that will release more than $300,000,000 in private development money—and yes, the last 3 zeros are correct here. The state had better not use some excuse about temporary traffic tie-ups to deny downtown New Haven its future. No one cared about the effects of all the I-95 traffic problems that they created while widening I-95 to make suburban commutes out of the city easier in the long run.
posted by: HewNaven on February 10, 2014 4:26pm
If politicians like Malloy don’t think its OK to tax soda, where do they stand on alcohol and tobacco taxes? Where do we draw this line on taxes and why? Is it truly a “philosophical” (i.e. an ideological) position as he stated or is Malloy simply being cautious during election season?
Separate issue: What evidence does the Rudd Center have that taxation is an effect means of mitigation in this case?
posted by: alex on February 10, 2014 4:43pm
The food policy tax is a slam dunk and Harp is courageous for championing it.
There are two possibilities: Either it discourages people (especially kids) from drinking soda, and thus saves on health care costs while AT THE SAME TIME raising much-needed revenues (you can even calculate how much on the Rudd Center website)
If it doesn’t discourage people from drinking soda (which I’ll admit is probably likely) then ALL IT DOES is raise much-needed revenue WITHOUT impinging on the notion of “free choice” (since people will still be buying the soda).
To be sure, any tax on a consumer good is going to be somewhat regressive. But you know what’s more regressive? The state’s crushing debt burden. Pass the tax!
posted by: Serf of New Haven on February 10, 2014 6:18pm
” - to avoid passing any measure that can show up as a “tax” in a Republican attack ad.” You can’t make this stuff up. Malloy and the Democrats pushed through 77 tax hikes since 2011. Here is a sampler - The personal income tax rate went up for individuals making as little as $50,000 The highest marginal income tax rate went up from 6.5 percent to 6.7 percent. The corporate tax rate went from 8.25 percent to 9 percent. Higher taxes were retroactive to January 1, 2011. Property tax credits were reduced to $300 (and to nothing for individuals making over $100,000). Estate taxes started kicking in at $2 million instead of $3.5 million. The real estate conveyance tax went up from 0.5 percent to 0.75 percent on the first $800,000 of the sale price of one’s home. Luxury goods tax – 7 percent on clothing costing over $1,000, jewelry over $5,000, motor vehicles over $50,000 and boats over $100,000. There’s a new tax of .25 of one cent per kilowatt hour of electricity from the most reliable sources (like nuclear power, natural gas and coal) – not applicable to subsidized solar or wind power. Sales taxes went up to 6.35 percent. Sales tax exemptions were eliminated for non-prescription medicines, yoga instruction, airport valet parking, stop-smoking products and shoes costing less than $50. The Amazon.com tax – sellers without a physical presence in Connecticut must collect sales taxes on orders originating in Connecticut. Hotel taxes went from 12 percent to 15 percent. The rent-a-car tax went from 6.35 percent to 9.35 percent. The hospital tax – 4.6 percent quarterly on net hospital revenue from patients. Nursing home resident user fee – up from 5.5 percent to 6 percent. Cremation taxes, up from $100 to $150. This guy is the worst kind of politician. Keeping up with his lies is a full time job. And DeLauro needs to retire. She apparently, with her gold plated benefit package, hasn’t got the memo that Obamacare is barely affordable with subsidies and unaffordable without.
posted by: Charl on February 10, 2014 7:09pm
The astroturf in the comment section is getting ridiculous. Harp is “courageous” for “championing” the soda tax?
Dr. Martin Luther was courageous. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was courageous.
Comments like that don’t pass the sniff test, and they have been bountiful since the election campaign, and especially since Jan 1.
posted by: Guido Brunetti on February 11, 2014 1:23am
Mayor Harp this is a well intentioned effort following Mayor Bloomberg’s lead, but rather than imposing a tax, propose changes to the SNAP program (formerly known as Food Stamps) by prohibiting the purchase of soda and junk food in general.
One day in checkout line at Elm City Market, the young lady in front of me purchased a bottle of Starbucks Frappucino, Orange soda, glazed doughnut and a bagel. Imagine my surprise when she paid with her SNAP card!
Talk about a contradiction. What “Nutritional” value do the first 3 items contain? Even the bagel, a portion that would have alarmed Dr.ATKINS is not the example of balanced nutrition, but has potential if used as foundation for protein.
posted by: alex on February 11, 2014 2:02am
I’m a real person, I don’t hold everyday politicians to the standard of MLK and I stand by saying it’s courageous.
Proposing a tax, especially a “nanny state” tax like sugary soda, is good policy and bad politics. That’s what I like to see.
Beverage companies have a strong lobbying presence in the state, by the way. They fought the 5 cent charge for recycling for years. Big government doesn’t—and will never—decide what people drink. But big soda does…
posted by: robn on February 11, 2014 9:52am
You’re right. Looks like the SNAP rules aren’t too judgmental. I’m not sure how they could realistically ask stores to police this though…
Good point about SNAP. I was pretty horrified when I discovered SNAP recipients could purchase junk food (e.g. soda, candy, etc.) Junk food does not SUPPLEMENT one’s diet, nor is it NUTRITIONAL. And the only ASSISTANCE junk food can offer is to increase the rate of obesity-related illness.
REFORM SNAP NOW!!
posted by: Guido Brunetti on February 11, 2014 1:50pm
Thanks for the DSS link. To clarify I meant that appeals to the Department of Agriculture, who oversees the program, not store personnel.
Mayor Bloomberg was unsuccessful in his efforts to prohibit SNAP soda purchases because Coke and Pepsi fought it. SNAP needs an overhaul immediately.
posted by: robn on February 11, 2014 2:44pm
I understand. A policy change is what’s needed but it has to be something that can be implemented. I suppose since everything you’d want to ban has a bar code on it, it could be as simple as programming it into the bar code system, however, letting consumers know what is defined as “junk food” might be more difficult. If you don’t do that, there will be chaos at the check-outs and piles of unpurchased goods lying around.
Besides a really simple prescribed list of things you CAN buy, the only way to avoid check-out chaos would be scanner stations throughout the store for SNAP verification.