February 13 2009
Bottle bill? Can it!
Bodega owners blast Gov. David Paterson's plan as fat tax burden
Bodega owners who fear Gov. Paterson's plan to hike the nickel bottle deposit and put an "obesity tax" on nondiet sodas will hurt them, their employees and their customers, massed on City Hall Thursday.
"Our businesses - small businesses - can't afford that tax," Ramon Murphy, president of the Bodega Association of the United States, told a rally of grocery owners and workers.
Paterson proposed the 15% tax on sugary sodas, as well as well as a separate expansion of the bottle bill to cover sports drinks and bottled water, to raise more than $520 million to help plug the state's $14 billion budget gap.
The governor says his plan also would keep New Yorkers healthier and give people an incentive to recycle bottles. Opponents say it's unfair for Paterson to tap struggling businesses and consumers to make up for those gaps.
"The governor doesn't have enough money because we're chasing small business out of the city of New York," said Nelson Eusebio, executive director of the National Supermarket Association, who said the city has lost 100 supermarkets in the last four years.
Milk, juice, water and diet soda would be exempt from the obesity tax, but it would generate an estimated $404 million a year for the state.
The expanded bottle bill would raise an estimated $118 million, while increasing the handling fee for merchants who take back empties and lowering the number of empties that some stores would be required to take.
Environmentalists say it would be a boon for New York by taking trash out of landfills and recycling it - and would even help the poorest New Yorkers who make their living by collecting empties.
Willie Caban, who has been unemployed for a year and a half, said he makes $40 to $50 a day collecting bottles - and hopes to make a lot more if the bill expands.
"Sixty per cent of the things, I can't even pick up," said Caban, 33, who is homeless in the South Bronx. "There's more water bottles than soda cans now, because a lot of people are on the health trip."
Still, City Councilman Miguel Martinez (D-Manhattan) said the cost of Paterson's plan would be borne by small businesses and average New Yorkers - not the financial companies and high-fliers who brought down the economy in the first place.
"What you see here is what New York City is all about," Martinez said, gesturing to the store workers and bodega owners behind him.
"These are not the individuals who are laying off. ... The ones that are laying off, that are getting all the stimulus package, are the big corporations."