You have to love Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson. The guy is so far left that he's achieved parody status. I click into his column to the same purpose that prompts my daily visit to the Onion: I'm seeking a chuckle.
He does not disappoint today with his column urging Governor Patrick to stick to his guns on his recent proposal to raise taxes on soda (and candy, and alcoholic beverages). To Jackson's chagrin, a similar proposal advanced by Accidental-Governor Paterson in New York was just shot down. The Massachusetts Legislature, reluctant for the time being to follow Patrick down Tax Hike Road (which leads, it seems, to Unpopularsville), has also poured cold water on the Patrick's 'vice tax' initiative.
This irritates Derrick Z., who sees the soda tax as not only a great way to raise revenue, but a wonderful opportunity for government to slip into its comfortable Nanny State shoes and tell people how they ought to be behaving.
"It would be cowardly for the Legislature to side with sugar water and candy bars, as kids keel over from diabetes," Derrick Z. pontificates. Who better than government to protect kids from Coca-Cola? Certainly not their parents, who do not figure into the Z-man's analysis.
In Jackson's conception, revenue from a tax hike "would probably allow the state to be able to provide more fresh fruits and vegetables in schools, help the poor access healthy foods at things like farmers markets and obesity prevention programs." This thinking (which permeates liberal tax policy) is at odds with itself. Jackson argues in the same column that: (a) the soda tax needs to be increased to decrease consumption; and (b) the soda tax needs to be increased to fund a whole bunch of "obesity prevention programs." This funding, of course, only comes with... consumption. The same logic can be found in the internally-conflicting argument in favor of a gas tax hike: we need it, you see, to provide more funds for transportation infrastructure maintenance. We need it, you see, to convince people to stop driving their cars to "save the planet." Achieving the latter undermines the former, but you'll never get Derrick Z. or Governor Patrick to acknowledge that fundamental inconsistency.
Interestingly, Jackson acknowledges that Patrick's proposal to eliminate the 5 percent sales tax exemption currently applied to soda (as "food") is "so modest that most public health advocates doubt its impact on actual consumption." In other words, Jackson's bloviations about kids, obsesity and diabetes are entirely beside the point - empty posturing to obscure the real agenda here, which is to pull money out of taxpayer pockets whenever and however the government possibly can.
That does not mean that Jackson (or Patrick, for that matter) is not genuinely committed to this notion - offensive to many people - that tax policy ought to be crafted to bend public behavior to the Nanny State's will. But that is not what they are really trying to do here. The moral justifications are window dressing. This year it is all about "revenue."