We thought the ban on trans-fats in New York City restaurants was bad enough, but now New York Governor David Paterson has apparently decided to one-up Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Paterson has proposed an “obesity tax” — surcharges on foods that don’t meet with the approval of the Empire State Board of Regulating Your Food Choices.  It will start with sodas, but it won’t end there:

A can of Coke could soon cost New Yorkers more than just calories.

Gov. Paterson, as part of a $121 billion budget to be unveiled Tuesday, will propose an “obesity tax” of about 15% on nondiet drinks.

This means a Diet Coke might sell for a $1 – even as the same size bottle of its calorie-rich alter ego would go for $1.15.

New York blogger and centrist Jazz Shaw sees … well, red:

The worst part is that this isn’t going to have any significant impact on consumption or health in our state. It’s just a way to put a “health friendly” label on an obvious grab for more tax revenue in a state whose permanently dysfunctional government couldn’t balance a budget with the scales of Lady Justice herself. Better to just pass an across the board income tax hike and see if the voters will tolerate it when you next stand for election. Or, perhaps, exhibit the leadership required to whip the state legislature into some semblance of fiscal responsibility. But that would require political courage, wouldn’t it? So I suppose we’ll just get an “obesity tax” for an early Christmas present instead.

All of that is true, except for the consumption part.  New York will probably sell fewer Coca-Colas and Pepsis as a result of the tax, especially in vending machines.  People won’t switch to the diet versions, however (diet drinks are an acquired taste), nor will they buy milk or bottled water.  They just won’t buy anything at all.  The increase in tax revenues that Paterson uses to partially justify the new policy won’t appear, leaving New Yorkers thirsty and the government in no better position than it is now — but with more enforcement responsibilities than it had previously.

Of course, the nanny-state advocates love the idea:

Public health advocates welcomed news of the tax, saying it would help the fight against childhood obesity.

“Raising the price of this liquid candy will put children and teens on a path to a healthier diet,” said Elie Ward of the American Academy of Pediatrics of New York State.

Since when did that become the responsibility of government?  Parents have that responsibility.  If the AAP wants to get government involved in the beverage issue, they can have them pull the vending machines out of schools, which sell the sodas to the kids.  Parents would probably welcome that change anyway, and at least that’s a legitimate area for government action.

Those aren’t the only taxes Paterson plans to raise.  He wants to reinstitute the sales tax on clothing and shoes, while increasing welfare payments 30%, making it easier to qualify for Medicaid and expanding the Family Health Plus program.  The state of New York needs its own obesity controls instead of an obesity tax.  When Paterson proves that he can slim down government, maybe he’d have the credibility to act as a diet coach for his constituents.  Until then, have a Coke and a smile, and shut the hell up.

Update: Don Surber notes that West Virginia has had a soft-drink tax for 50 years:

West Virginia imposed one more than 50 years ago.

West Virginia is the second fattest state in the country.

Thank God, once again, for Mississippi.

WV’s tax applies to all soft drinks, because 50 years ago no one had started producing diet soft drinks.  Lawmakers worried about malnutrition, not obesity, and the funds were earmarked for the construction of a dentistry school — which has long been built, with the “usual Robert C Byrd thingies”, as Don puts it.