NY Health Commissioner Is All About the Benjamins

New York Health Commissioner Richard Daines is on an Empire State road show, promoting Governor David Paterson’s pet budget proposal: taxing sugary drinks. Last week, Daines and New York City’s head nanny Thomas Farley penned an op-ed about the supposed health benefits of a soft drink tax. But when the Syracuse Post-Standard described Daines’ pitch to New York legislators, a slightly different approach was emphasized:

Several state legislators, including Sen. Dave Valesky, D-Oneida, oppose the tax. But Daines said legislators have not come up with good alternatives to close the state’s budget gap. He said the Senate has been talking about closing the gap by collecting more revenue from cigarettes sales on Indian reservations or refinancing bonds the state got through a 1998 settlement with the tobacco industry.

“Those are pretty shaky revenue sources,” Daines said. … “Every bit of legitimate revenue we can bring in will reduce the amount of borrowing.”

The Post-Standard isn’t the only paper taking note of Daines’ budgetary talking point. On Sunday, a New York Times profile of Daines revealed one bureaucratic benefit to passing a sugary drink tax:

The state budget office estimates such a tax would raise $1 billion a year when fully in effect … an estimate based, Dr. Daines says, on industry price elasticity models. Earnings would go to stave off health services cuts…[Daines] is gambling that the tax proposal might be revived during 11th-hour budget negotiations, when lawmakers are desperate.

Gee, commissioner, is the tax really about fighting obesity? Or is funding health-care bureaucracy the real name of the game?

Not all New Yorkers are buying Daines’ assertion that a soft drink tax is for everybody’s well being. The Times interviewed one Queens supermarket owner who hit the nail on the head:

Mr. Eusebio, the tax opponent, recommended that Dr. Daines devote his time to promoting a “holistic diet” and educating young people about the benefits of exercise.

“Educating people helps them more than taxing them,” Mr. Eusebio said. “If taxation was a form of diet, New Yorkers would be the healthiest people on the planet because we are the most overtaxed people on the planet.”

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