In the ongoing effort to rationalize tax increases, nanny staters have targeted cigarettes, alcohol, sugary drinks, plastic bags, and even pizza. In Florida, the latest arbitrary excise tax proposal hits a product that many consider perfectly healthy: bottled water. Supporters argue that these "sin taxes" are important steps to curbing the purchase of goods with negative externalities; food and beverage taxes are meant to reduce obesity and improve public wellness by making it more expensive to consume unhealthy products. The ostensible aim of high taxes on plastic bags and bottled water is to better the environment by reducing the amount of plastic in landfills. 

In reality, these targeted taxes are nothing more than politically feasible methods of raising more revenue for state governments. States continue to overspend, but find it increasingly unpopular to increase taxes that hit large swaths of taxpayers: taxes on income, sales, and property. Therefore, they opt for nickel-and-dime taxes that often fly under the radar, greasing the skids with the absurd claim that it is the role of government to decide what its people should and should not purchase.

In Florida’s case, this means a new 6 percent tax on bottled water. Proponents contend that government must rid the world of plastic for the sake of the environment. Nevermind that plastic bottles are among the most recycled of any product – the true motivation for such a proposal is the culture of overspending in Tallahassee. Gov. Crist’s 2010 budget proposal increases spending by a whopping $2.7 billion despite a $3 billion deficit. Rather than hold the line on spending and attempt to eliminate waste in the state budget, revenue-hungry politicians are turning to bottled water as the arbitrary tax hike du jour.

The bottled water tax, like most excise taxes, is regressive in nature. It consumes a larger portion of poor families’ budgets, and effectively punishes them for purchasing a completely healthy product. The tax would also have a direct economic impact on the state’s economy. According to the International Bottled Water Association, in 2009 the industry provided 8,796 jobs paying over $366 million in wages in Florida alone. Now is certainly not the time to be hitting the state’s productive private sector, with Florida’s unemployment rate at 12.2 percent, up three points from a year ago.

It’s never a good time for government to decide what people can and cannot eat and drink, and now is certainly not the time to raise taxes to fund more public sector frivolity. ATR urges state legislators to oppose this unnecessary revenue grab and allow taxpayers to make their own choices on what to drink as well as how to spend their own money.

See ATR’s letter to the Florida Legislature below. For a PDF of the letter, click here.


March 29, 2010
FL House
FL Senate
Dear Legislator:
In the aftermath of last year’s budget debacle, Floridians simply cannot handle another tax increase. I am dismayed at the fact that the Senate Commerce Committee has opted to propose just that, passing a new 6 percent tax on bottled water earlier this week. I urge you to oppose this regressive tax increase on one of the healthiest products consumers can buy – water.
Proposals such as these are where nanny statism and big government collide. Those in favor claim that by imposing higher taxes on bottled water, government can save the environment. They wish to impose their will on consumers who would otherwise make their own choices about what to drink, raising more money for the government to spend on a variety of pet projects in the process.
In reality, a bottled water tax is nothing more than a symptom of a culture of overspending in Tallahassee. Gov. Crist has proposed a budget that increases spending levels by $2.7 billion with an unprecedented $69.2 billion in government spending that completely ignores the economic reality facing Florida’s working families.
To specifically tax bottled water is to disproportionately tax low-income residents for leading healthy lifestyles. This is akin to taxing jogging or weight lifting. The environmental argument is flawed – plastic water bottles are among the most recycled of any product.
Revenue-hungry politicians are pushing for higher taxes and more spending, period. Today’s bottled water tax is tomorrow’s pizza tax. The goal remains the same: Remove money from the productive private sector and use it to line government coffers.
This presents one major problem. Government overspending is what got Florida into this mess in the first place. The state has overspent itself into a $3 billion hole and rather than exercise restraint, it seems to be pushing for a bigger, more frivolous government. The tax hike du jour involves punishing those who choose to drink their water out of a bottle.
On behalf of healthy, well-hydrated taxpayers, I urge you to reject this tax increase. Government’s involvement in the lives of Florida families reaches far enough; telling them what they can and cannot drink in the name of increasing the size of the state crosses the line.
Grover Norquist