Soda tax is sweet
With a current deficit of at least $9 billion, the Albany budget will be a bitter pill to swallow no matter how it is balanced, but it won’t taste quite so bad if legislators have the courage to tax soda and other high-sugar drinks at a penny an ounce, as the governor proposes.
Obesity is one of the leading threats to New Yorkers’ health, and a major reason for our skyrocketing health costs. The tax won’t end obesity as we know it, but anything to discourage people from reducing their intake of an unhealthy contributor to the problem is a help.
The Big Sugar lobby is working hard to bully legislators and dupe voters. Ironically, one of their commercials subtly makes the case for the tax. A minority owner of a small market says he sees shoppers with calculators in the aisle figuring out their food budget down to the penny. Aren’t those customers more likely to choose something healthier, or at least less unhealthy, if a large bottle of soda is 68 cents more? People of many incomes are likely to change their habits for the better with the tax.
This budget will no doubt have income tax hikes, cuts to schools and other painful measures. Unlike the other options, the soda tax at least has an upside.
It’s much like traffic pricing, which reduces pollution and congestion while raising desperately needed money for mass transit. By the way, that’s an idea we hope will be revived immediately after the budget is passed. There are too many subway and bus cuts pending without considering beneficial ways to avoid them.
Higher-priced driving and soda beats canceled bus lines and overcrowded classrooms anytime. We can live with a little less sugar and pollution. We might not be able to live with more.
Making it reality island
Governors Island, the slightly-tapped jewel a few minutes from Lower Manhattan’s coast, got two pieces of good news in recent weeks. The first is the city is nearing an agreement with the state to take the lead role in island planning. The second is New York University has advanced its idea to open a satellite campus there.
Neither development means that the landmark 173-acre island is certain to realize its full potential, but both are important steps in the right direction. The current 50-50 funding split means that the island’s seasonal opening gets subjected to the whims of Albany budget negotiations every year.
Mayor Bloomberg has always taken a stronger interest in the island than the state, and giving the city the bulk of the responsibility and authority will no doubt enable realistic long-term planning to proceed. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose Lower Manhattan district includes the island, and island preservationists are working to make sure the state-city agreement has important elements including ensuring the public has a meaningful voice in plans, and that previous commitments to provide open space and maintain historic buildings are preserved.
Island visitorship keeps exploding. About 275,000 took ferry trips last season to enjoy the beautiful parks, waterfront views or participate in the many cultural programs, but without more paying tenants soon, the long-term prospects of these publicly-funded programs are remote.
We are pleased that N.Y.U. has already spent so much time and money looking at the island’s possibilities. More than one university has seen an idyllic potential campus on Governors only to walk away. We hope N.Y.U. stays committed to Governors, despite the island’s economic drawbacks — most notably limited access. N.Y.U. can’t single handily become the island’s savior, but it can lead the way for others.