Colorado House Bill 1191 would reinstate sales tax on soft drinks and candy as of March 2010, and is drawing criticism from Rick Enstrom, the owner of Enstrom’s, a candy company that has been based in Grand Junction, Colorado for 50 years.
At first glance, I’m in favor of HB 1191. I believe that our health care costs will not truly be contained until our overall health improves, and I believe we need to focus on much better eating patterns in order to make that happen. Taxes levied on foods like soft drinks is a good place to start. But Enstrom’s complaints made me look a little more closely. As I read through the language of the bill, I was puzzled by the fact that candy is being targeted, but not sweets in general. And especially by the idea that if a food contains flour, it will be exempt from the tax proposed by HB 1191. So a twinkie wouldn’t be taxed, but a square of dark chocolate would.
It’s especially interesting when you consider that not only would we be not taxing sweets made with flour, but we’re actually encouraging the use of flour with the way our farm subsidies are structure (wheat is the third most heavily subsidized crop in the US).
I don’t think that candy and soft drinks are doing our health any favors, especially for people who consume a lot of them. But there are plenty of other products (many of which are comprised primarily of white flour) that are doing just as much harm to our collective health. If the goal is to improve the health of the American people, it doesn’t make sense to write a bill that taxes such a small number of “sin foods”.
Rick Enstrom points out that his company employs 146 Colorado residents, and provides dental, vision, and health insurance for them. In addition, the company pumps millions of dollars into the Colorado economy and donated over $80,000 in charitable contributions last year. In my opinion, the fact that they are creating jobs doesn’t automatically mean they should be exempt from sales tax… but I don’t think that they should be put at an unfair disadvantage when compared with a company that makes cookies. If we’re going to tax sweets, we should tax all of them, not just the ones that fall under HB 1191’s narrow definition of candy.