Un­like other ‘sin’ taxes, soda tax in plain sight

Chicago Tribune - - CHANGE OF SUBJECT - er­ic­zorn@gmail.com Twit­ter @Er­ic­Zorn

Are you aware of the nearly 11-cents-an-ounce po­tent bev­er­age tax paid by cus­tomers in Chicago?

The tax dwarfs the new pen­nyan-ounce sweet­ened bev­er­age tax that now has so many Cook County res­i­dents in an up­roar, but I’m guess­ing you’re fairly obliv­i­ous to it.

You may not reg­u­larly pur­chase al­co­hol that’s 40 proof and up — think bour­bon, whiskey, vodka, tequila, Ever­clear and so on. And even if you do, the state, county and city “sin” taxes that add up to $13.73 a gal­lon are hid­den in­side the shelf price.

The same is true of the com­bined nearly 36-cents-per-ci­garette tax Chicago smok­ers pay at the reg­is­ter. Of course they’re aware that the com­bined $7.17per-pack taxes more than dou­ble the price, but they don’t see what the var­i­ous gov­ern­ment bod­ies are nick­ing them for.

Ditto gaso­line taxes. The Illi­nois Pe­tro­leum Mar­keters As­so­ci­a­tion says in­vis­i­ble fed­eral, state, county and city taxes and fees boost the per-gal­lon price of gas by about 50 cents, and the law for­bids sta­tions from ad­ver­tis­ing a pre­tax price.

“When cus­tomers ac­tu­ally see the tax, they tend to get an­gry,” said Carol Port­man, pres­i­dent of the Tax­pay­ers Fed­er­a­tion of Illi­nois. She said she sus­pects part of the rea­son the pub­lic is so irate about the sweet­ened bev­er­age tax that went into ef­fect in Au­gust is that it’s a line item on gro­cery re­ceipts and not sim­ply tucked into the price.

County of­fi­cials wanted it other­wise. The orig­i­nal or­di­nance said the tax “must be in­cluded in the sell­ing price ... (as) ad­ver­tised or posted,” and that re­tail­ers could state it sep­a­rately on re­ceipts if they chose.

But due to com­plex­i­ties in the tax code, the Illi­nois Depart­ment of Rev­enue ruled that adding sales taxes on top of the bev­er­age tax would amount to dou­ble tax­a­tion. Re­tail­ers iden­ti­fied the ad­di­tional prob­lem that pur­chases by those in the Sup­ple­men­tal Nu­tri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram (SNAP, in­for­mally called food stamps) are ex­empt from state and lo­cal taxes.

Both are is­sues that nim­ble point-of-sale soft­ware could ad­dress, but the SNAP prob­lem sug­gests a big­ger ques­tion:

If these sweet­ened bev­er­ages are as bad for you — as nu­tri­tion­ally empty and dis­ease-en­abling — as the cur­rent pro-tax ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign has been in­sist­ing, then why does the gov­ern­ment help low-in­come peo­ple buy them?

SNAP ben­e­fits don’t cover booze or cig­a­rettes, af­ter all. So by the same health-based logic used to jus­tify the sweet­ened bev­er­age tax, SNAP should ex­clude soda, en­ergy drinks, bot­tled Frap­puc­ci­nos and all the other drinks to which a penny an ounce has been added to the price.

Such a change would send a dra­matic sig­nal to par­ents of all in­come lev­els to stop en­cour­ag­ing their kids to swill pop and maybe cut back a lit­tle them­selves.

And it would be con­sis­tent with one of Cook County Board Pres­i­dent Toni Preck­win­kle’s main ar­gu­ments for the tax, which is that it will dis­cour­age con­sump­tion in im­pov­er­ished com­mu­ni­ties that suf­fer dis­pro­por­tion­ately from ail­ments re­lated to ex­ces­sive sugar con­sump­tion.

Of course such a change would re­quire a fed­eral waiver that Big Soda would try might­ily to block. Tax­pay­ers sub­si­dize sugar crops, then sub­si­dize the pur­chase of sug­ary drinks, then sub­si­dize the health care for those sick­ened by them, and that’s how they like it.

Far like­lier is that the Cook County Board will vote next month to re­peal the tax as pub­lic clamor is de­mand­ing.

Would it have been more pop­u­lar if it had been hid­den? We’ll prob­a­bly never know.

Wait, what?

Equifax hoovers up my per­sonal data with­out my per­mis­sion or con­sent, lets hack­ers into its dig­i­tal back door to steal my data and now I’m sup­posed to con­tact it? To pro­tect my­self from its blun­der?

Look, I un­der­stand the need for credit rat­ing agen­cies and the ser­vices they per­form, mostly for fi­nan­cial com­pa­nies and ma­jor re­tail­ers. They fa­cil­i­tate com­merce. And to do so they need to keep track of how we’ve been in­ter­act­ing with our cred­i­tors.

But I’ve never hired Equifax or its main com­peti­tors, Tran­sUnion and Ex­pe­rian. I’ve never agreed — ex­cept, per­haps, by check­ing a box on a terms-of-service con­tract that I didn’t read — to let it as­sem­ble a dossier on me that in­cludes my So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber, birth date, driver’s li­cense num­ber and other per­sonal data use­ful to iden­tity thieves.

When I learned that last week Equifax had suf­fered a se­cu­rity breach, dis­cov­ered July 29, that may have com­pro­mised 143 mil­lion ac­counts in­clud­ing mine, I had no op­por­tu­nity to curse my­self for trust­ing the agency. In­stead, I sim­ply cursed. Cursed at Equifax’s de­lay in an­nounc­ing the breach and cursed es­pe­cially at the com­pany’s di­rec­tive to go to its web­site to de­ter­mine if my per­sonal data was among the stolen in­for­ma­tion and then to pro­ceed to en­roll in set­ting up free credit mon­i­tor­ing for a year.

No. Since you didn’t pro­tect the data, Equifax, you con­tact the vic­tims and you set up the free credit mon­i­tor­ing. It’s ab­surd that any of this is on us. All credit rat­ing agen­cies should be re­quired by law to mon­i­tor the credit of every­one on whom they have cre­ated a pro­file with­out per­sonal con­sent.

Let these com­pa­nies make it eas­ier — and free — to freeze your credit ac­count to pro­tect from fraud. Tell them to stop mak­ing us work and pay to com­pen­sate for the in­ad­e­qua­cies in their sys­tem. If they can’t safe­guard our in­for­ma­tion, force them to make it less valu­able to thieves.

Sur­vey says …

“I can’t think of any­thing worse than hav­ing gov­ern­ment more in­volved in your health care,” said White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders on Wed­nes­day, re­act­ing to Ver­mont Sen. Bernie San­ders’ am­bi­tious sin­gle-payer health in­sur­ance pro­posal.

Re­ally? Gallup took a sur­vey on this very point in 2015 and head­lined its re­port “Amer­i­cans With Gov­ern­ment Health Plans Most Sat­is­fied.”

Un­der the head­ing “Per­cent­age sat­is­fied with the way the health sys­tem is work­ing,” mil­i­tary per­son­nel and veter­ans topped the list with 78 per­cent sat­is­fac­tion. Re­cip­i­ents of Medi­care (77 per­cent) and Med­i­caid (75 per­cent) were next. Then came non­govern­ment in­sur­ance from unions (71 per­cent) and em­ploy­ers (69 per­cent).

San­ders dou­bled down, sniff­ing that last year’s elec­tions, in­clud­ing his own de­feat in the Demo­cratic pri­mary, were “a pretty clear in­di­ca­tion of what Amer­ica wants to see, and its not a sin­gle-payer sys­tem.”

I dunno. De­pends on how you word the ques­tion, I sup­pose, but a CNN poll in Au­gust found 58 per­cent sup­port for “a na­tional health in­sur­ance pro­gram for all Amer­i­cans.” A Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity poll in July found 51 per­cent sup­port for “re­mov­ing the cur­rent health care sys­tem and re­plac­ing it with a sin­gle-payer sys­tem.” A Kaiser Fam­ily Foun­da­tion poll in June found 53 per­cent sup­port for a sys­tem “in which all Amer­i­cans would get their in­sur­ance from a sin­gle gov­ern­ment plan.” Also in June, the Pew Re­search Cen­ter found 60 per­cent sup­port for the propo­si­tion that it’s “the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to make sure all Amer­i­cans have health care cov­er­age.”

Mean­while, Gallup’s most re­cent job-ap­proval num­ber for San­ders’ boss, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, was 37 per­cent.

Re: Tweets

The win­ner of the Tweet of the Week poll was this quip by @xLis­erx: “If some­body doesn’t text me back within 5 min­utes I as­sume they don’t love me or that they’ve died from lov­ing me too much.”

If you’d like to be alerted when each new poll goes live, email me and I’ll put you on the very spe­cial list.

PHIL VE­LASQUEZ/CHICAGO TRIBUNE

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