Allen B. West

Nanny city in a nanny state: Ultra-liberal Berkeley, California taxes sugary drinks

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One of the surprises from the Tuesday midterm elections was the changing of several deep blue state governors’ mansions to red — Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland. There are some 35 states in America which, beginning in 2015, will be led by Republican governors.

And there is some pretty substantial evidence that the economic policies of these “red” states have performed better than their “blue” state associates. Of course, when you drill down to the urban centers — mostly Democrat-run, even in red states – you’ll still find economic obstacles to growth. Another key factor not being discussed as a result from Tuesday’s election is that some 69 of 99 state legislative bodies — Nebraska has a unicameral system, hope y’all know what I’m talking about — are now GOP-controlled.

So what does that mean for the policy agendas for economic growth and opportunity in what our Founding Fathers referred to as the “laboratories of democracy” — our states?

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Well, here’s one state I hope isn’t an indicator: California – and here’s why. As reported by USA Today, “Berkeley, Calif., became the first U.S. city to pass a law taxing sugary drinks including sodas. More than three-quarters of the votes cast were in favor of Measure D, according to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters. The measure will place a 1-cent-an-ounce tax on soft drinks. It only needed a majority of “yes” votes to pass. In nearby San Francisco, city voters rejected a similar measure to tax sugary drinks. The measure needed two-thirds of the vote to approve the two-cent tax. Proponents of the Berkeley tax say the fee will help curb consumption of sodas, energy drinks and sweetened iced teas, beverages they say are contributing to the nation’s obesity epidemic.”

As a Member of Congress I gave a floor speech regarding using the tax code as a weapon of mass destruction. I have great concern that ideologues are using taxation as a means of behavior modification.

Beyond this evident use of a municipal tax code to punish, what about the decision emanating from the US Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act based upon the individual mandate — which the American people were told was a fine?

As a matter of fact, that’s what the Obama administration Solicitor General argued before the SCOTUS in categorizing the individual mandate. The main presentation was whether or not the individual mandate was constitutional as interpreted against the commerce clause. To understand, you have to realize that in the days of James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay — those are the fellas who wrote the Constitution — commerce meant trade. And the Commerce Clause — Article I, Section 8, Clause 2 — addressed the establishment of the enumerated powers of the Congress “To regulate Commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes.”

In other words, the U.S. Congress could deal in trade matters between three entities, with other nations, between states, and with the Indian tribes — but it does not say anything about regulating trade with the individual citizen.

Therefore, when the ruling came back from the SCOTUS that the Individual Mandate was not in keeping — constitutional — as per the Commerce Clause. That meant the federal government, Congress, could not mandate to the individual American citizen to enter into a private sector purchase agreement — trade/business relation or transaction.

Unfortunately, Chief Justice Roberts then came back and redefined the individual mandate as a tax — which was something Americans were told it was not — and ruled that in keeping with Congressional taxing authority, the individual mandate [tax] was constitutional — and ergo so was the Affordable Care Act.

What that decision established was the ability of the federal government — and it seems the concept that government CAN — modify individual behavior by way of taxation. Yes, government could now force the individual citizen into purchasing a product under penalty of taxation. Now, look at the decision made in Berkeley, California and it seems government can use taxation to modify behavior as a means to deter use of a private sector commodity. The bottom line to all of this is we are entering very dangerous territory where government believes it knows what’s best for you and by way of taxation, government will implement its designs, i.e. mandates.

Let me give you an example of how absolutely absurd this Berkeley, California policy decision is. Just last Saturday I ran in a Wounded Warrior 5K race in Naples, Florida. I decided to purchase an energy drink for consumption before the run. Now, if I were to reside out in California, I would be punished by the municipal government by way of increased taxation under the misguided premise of improving my health. And after the run, then I guess that sports drink — ya know, Gatorade or Powerade – doesn’t meet the approval of this Sanhedrin to replenish my electrolytes.

Yes, our states are supposed to be the “laboratories of democracy” but the decision of the Berkeley City Council isn’t reflective of democracy, but the power of tyranny. It is evidence of a belief that individuals are not responsible or capable of making decisions for themselves, and therefore a group of elites will determine what’s best.

According to USA Today, “Berkeley has a proud history of setting nationwide trends, such as non-smoking sections in restaurants and bars, curb cuts for wheelchairs, curbside recycling and public school food policies,” said Vicki Alexander, co-chair of the group campaigning to pass Measure D, in a statement announcing a victory for the campaign. Roger Salazar, a representative of the $10 million opposition campaign in Berkeley and San Francisco that was funded by soft-drink manufacturers, said the Berkeley vote meant little nationally. “Berkeley is very eclectic. It doesn’t look like Anytown USA,” he told the Associated Press.”

The issue is that precedents are being established in America where taxation can be used as a tool for behavior modification. It has happened in the highest court of the land as well as in a city. That idea is cancerous and cannot be allowed to metastasize and spread. It would undermine the basic fundamental of our American Republic — the unalienable rights of the individual — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Just leave our chosen beverages alone — I use my energy drinks and electrolyte replenishing drinks for certain purposes. I understand that my healthcare is my personal responsibility — not that of any group of political elites.

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