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Reeder: Pop tax just an excuse to tax

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – The latest taxation plan in Springfield is more than a bit hard to swallow.

State Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, has introduced legislation for the state to start taxing soda pop at a rate of 1 cent per ounce.

That would jack up the price of a case of pop by 50 percent or about $2.88. Hunter’s reason is straightforward: Pop makes us fat.

No kidding.

So do pecan pie, potato chips and just about anything eaten to excess. Should we start creating special taxes for them, too? Or, you know, a few years ago I was reporting in Cuba and found that the government there rations food. It seems to ensure no one gets fat, but it leaves plenty of folks hungry.

Perhaps that is a model Hunter should consider. Back during World War II, our government rationed food. I still have some of my grandmother’s ration stamps tucked away in a drawer. Maybe that would be a scheme worthy of the good senator’s adoption.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying soda is particularly good for you.

Like many journalists, I was once a caffeine fiend downing seven or eight diet sodas a day.

But 15 months ago, I gave up all pop. Now the only beverages I consume are skim milk and water. But that is a personal choice. And pardon me, but personal choices should be just that – personal. They shouldn’t be subject to the dictates of government.

Government needs to butt out of our private lives. Personal responsibility should triumph over government mandates. By the way, in case you think this is all about government wanting just the best for you, think again. This tax plan would suck $600 million a year right out of the pockets of Illinoisans, one quarter at a time. And that money would be used to further expand government.

Illinois doesn’t have a revenue problem – it has a spending problem. Revenues are at their highest level in the state’s 196-year history. But our state government is still broke. There is an insatiable thirst for dollars in Springfield that no soda tax can quench. While soda may be making people overweight, new taxes are making our government fat.

That in itself is a good reason for supporters of the new tax to put a cork in it.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org.

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