Nanny State

Gluttony, Greed, Wrath and Other Taxable Sins

In New York, Gov. Paterson tries to tax some sins, deregulate others.


New York is out for blood, wine, and cola. This week, Gov. David Paterson released a budget proposal. His goal: To eliminate the state's $7.4 billion budget deficit. His budget includes $5.5 billion in cuts and $1 billion in tax increases. The coverage of his budget might make you think that Paterson decided to do what other governors (ahem, Arnold) have shied away from: get serious about fiscal responsibility. The $134 billion overall budget was described as a "slash and burn" budget, but actual state spending will still be $787 million more than last year. Meanwhile, massive amounts of stimulus money are keeping the state afloat in the short term, but deeper cuts will have to be made.

And because Gov. Paterson can't seem to do anything right (with the possible exception of nuzzling, at which he is reportedly quite skilled), his "tough" budget is already on the skids. On Tuesday, he announced his budget proposal, including cuts in health care, education, and prison spending. On Wednesday, lawmakers pronounced it "dead." And so, a budget larger than the previous year's budget is (a) considered super tough, and (b) DOA. But as a matter of academic interest, let's take a look at what the dead budget contains, since Paterson's desperation is shared by governors across the nation, many of whom have a less fraught relationship with their various legislatures.

Much of the projected $1 billion in increased tax revenue would come from the state's sinners. In some provisions, he taxes the kind of behavior your grandmother would frown upon. Mostly, Paterson's taxes focus on discouraging gluttony. He suggests tacking on an extra dollar to each pack of cigarettes (already clocking in at an astonishing $10 per pack). He revived the once-dead soda tax, proposing a penny-per-ounce surcharge on "sugared beverages." Those taxes will bring in $210 million and $400 million for the year, respectively. Movie tickets, taxi rides, cigars, and massages are all on the taxman's list. Planning to just stay home and watch TV or listen to music? Add an iPod tax and a tax on cable or satellite service into the mix, just for good measure.

New York isn't alone among the cash-strapped states (read: all of them) in looking to take a tax sip from the nation's "sugared beverages." Today in New Hampshire, hearings are being held on soft drink taxes, and a bill is already in the pipeline. In Mississippi, a bill to impose a 2 cent per ounce tax is under consideration by the legislature. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson says he is getting increasingly serious about soda taxes as well. And the California Senate must not have given way to total despair, since they are working up a plan for taxing sweetened drinks. Because legislators and governors tend not to be too hot on math, the pro-tax Center for Science in the Public Interest offers a handy little calculator that shows how much money could flow into state coffers from a soda tax. And once they see those numbers—$400 million in free money!—it's hard to forget them when it comes time to add up the columns on a budget spreadsheet.

The state is also fishing for federal money—sometimes using it as bait for taxpayer money. Backed by cash from the Department of Transportation, the state of New York launched an aggressive campaign to stop "distracted driving" this week. The plan: Ticket everyone caught holding a cell phone in a car. The ticket revenue will surely not go to waste.

But New York is having trouble seizing even relatively low hanging federal plums. Paterson's budget includes a $1.1 billion cut in school spending, but he offered state legislators an out. The state had $700 million coming to it in "Race to the Top" money from the Department of Education. The funds are designed to encourage experimentation and other non-traditional education methods. The money would have gone right into state coffers, if they just committed to expand the number of permitted charter schools within their borders. But the deadline blew by, unheeded by state legislators unwilling to loosen the grip of the teachers' unions on public schools, even in exchange for federal bribes.

But when it comes to the sins of wrath and greed, Paterson's budget encourages more spending on the kind of behavior your black sheep uncle smiles upon. Budget provisions include legalizing ultimate fighting, allowing a lottery game in bars, extending legally permitted hours of operation for slot machines and—this is a big one—allowing the sale of wine in grocery stores. All to the end of maximizing tax revenue on these pricey sins.

A wide and varied cast of characters are complaining about the proposed cuts: you don't often see prison guards, soda bottlers, and cigar smokers fighting for the same cause. Rarer still, that team could wind up pitted against the state's slots gamblers and ultimate fighters. Smart money would be on the gambler-ultimate fighter team, if only the hapless Gov. Paterson weren't on their side as well.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is a senior editor at Reason.

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  1. I am amazed that people still live in that state. I escaped over fifteen years ago.

    1. Oh that’s easy…people are stupid.

      1. That’s my governing model, yes.

  2. New York’s only sin was allowing CBGB to close.

  3. My father once complained to me “They always tax cigarettes and beer, poor man’s pleasures”.

    Fuck excise taxes. All of them. They’re an odious combination of regressive taxation and social engineering.

  4. The $134 billion overall budget was described as a “slash and burn” budget, but actual state spending will still be $787 million more than last year.

    Just what the fuck does the NY government do to justify $134 billion smuckaroos? Do they have plans to level all cities to the ground and then raise them up?

    Ok, if we “need” government, who can justify needing a $134 billion government for a population of 19.5 million in an area of 54,555 SQM?

    1. $6800 per person. What a steal…

    2. Works out to about $7,000 a head. For state government. Jeebus H on a pogo stick.

      Texas has over 24MM people, and an annual state budget of about $91BB, or about $3800 a head.

      1. And Texas has oil and another fifteen million illegals.

        1. Yeah, I figure that part is pretty much a wash.

          1. Maybe so.

            1. Half is medicaid spending.

  5. Plus, he wants to legalize ultimate fighting.

    Which in New York is just a long contest of “What the fuck are YOU looking at?” back and forth… for 4 hours.

    1. in speedos, i hope.

  6. All to the end of maximizing tax revenue on these pricey sins.

    Will the State forbid people from proselyitizing against sin? Like priests and ministers and the like? They would be bad for business, you know . . .

    1. Its the proselytizing that makes people want to do it. So, tax breaks for priests and ministers….oh wait…

  7. First, allow me to thank reason for being the first site I’ve encountered since 1996 that allows commenting without requiring the commenter to give away personal information for later sale to marketingbots.

    Second, while Patterson may not be in line with my philosophical convictions, he has the courage to stand up to the monster/machine that runs NY politics. If he fights in the wrong direction sometimes, well, look at his own party trying to run him out on a rail. As far as I can tell, he is the only politician around actually trying to get government to spend less of our money, and I think that is worth noting.

    1. I think you mean “worth something

      1. Opps. I read your post as “worth nothing”.

        Never mind.

    2. True dat. I would actually vote for him if I didn’t live in the People’s Republic of Jersey

    3. as a just barely resident of the mistake of NY, I have to agree that while I don’t agree with him politically I do credit him with having the balls to talk about spending cuts from day one. And while nobody here wants tax increases the reality of the legislative process is that there will be.

      What is disheartening is that our legislators are so completely corrupt/incompetent/in fairy land that they can’t see the spending levels are destroying the state. That a blind liberal governator can and they can’t takes the cake.

      1. +1

  8. These aren’t taxes; they are “fees” for the role that smokers and beer drinkers played in causing the recession!

    1. Those damn smokers and beer drinkers! I knew it was them!

      1. My wife and I agree, people who drink beer and smoke are uneducated homophobic puppy-kicking Republicans.

        But we’re not elitists.

    2. They aren’t just fees, they’re “Responsibility Fees”

  9. I find this oddly encouraging, if only because if New York’s politicians realize that reasonable taxes and regulations on sinful economic activities produce more renenue, then perhaps they’ll come to the logical conclusion that reasonable taxes and regulations on virtuous economic activities will have the same happy effect.

  10. Soda companies are good corporate citizens. They employ people in various communities and give to those communities in times of need. One of the first companies to respond to the tragedy in Haiti was Coca-Cola with a donation of $1 million dollars to the Red Cross. On the ground, Coca-Cola is getting four thousands cases of water thru to Haiti each day! Keep going Coke — Please keep helping

    Governor Paterson should back off the soda. It is not the source of the obesity problem. Inferior physical and nutritional education, which of course leads to poor exercise habits and ill-advised diets, are the cause of inflated waistlines. Having a salad with a Coke is far better then a bottle of water to wash down a face full of dirty water dogs. Add walking up the stairs instead of taking the elevator and you’re golden.

  11. And if one million users of these eeeevil substances quit cold turkey… Paterson and his ilk would just slap taxes on OTHER things.

    It’s always about grubbing more money with these people.

  12. This is a GREAT idea!

  13. “His goal: To eliminate the state’s $7.4 billion budget deficit. His budget includes $5.5 billion in cuts and $1 billion in tax increases.”

    5.5 + 1 = 6.5

    7.4 – 6.5 = STILL IN THE HOLE.

  14. Time for that girl-on-girl action!

  15. Someone needs a spanking.

    1. The good thing is that I don’t live in NY so I can gobble knobs and not pay a tax when I do.

      1. put up or shut up 2.0/ Artabanus of Parthia, It really is cute you want to be a pretender to the throne but I thought you wanted to be a scientist when you grew up.

        1. RCTL/Anus of Dropus

          U r the pretender to the porcelain god?

        2. What’s the matter there ReCTaL? DP too much for you?

    2. Time for that girl-on-girl action!

    3. After the spanking.

  16. I was going to quit smoking and drinking Mt. Dew, but now I feel obliged to drive through NY with copious quantities of both of these near-contraband goods purchased in the [not-low-tax] MI and OH yelling, “Suck it, bitches!”

    I hope that’s not wrong. Actually, I don’t care…

  17. They could steal much more money by taxing all goods and services at the same percentage rate and just raise that rate evenly for everything. It would also be cheaper than paying the costs of accounting and enforcing every single specialized tax. Of course I’m talking out my ass because politicians like social engineering and being able to prove that they are targeting evil behavior.


  19. They could steal much more money by taxing all goods and services at the same percentage rate and just raise that rate evenly for everything. It would also be cheaper than paying the costs of accounting and enforcing everyreplica omega single specialized tax. Of course I’m talking out my ass because politicians like social engineering and being able to prove that they are targeting evil behavior.

  20. POST get this specific strangely pushing, only when due to the fact when Fresh York’s political figures recognize that fair fees in addition to laws about sinful fiscal things to do manufacture a lot more renenue, after that certainly they will found yourself in that plausible conclude which fair fees in addition to laws about virtuous fiscal work out plans will present a similar content impact. Finnish Lapphund

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