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Padavan, soda providers decry drink tax proposal

State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) joined beverage industry leaders and workers at the Pepsi distribution plant in College Point last week as they voiced their outrage over a proposal by Gov. David Paterson to add a new tax on all sugary beverages.

The tax, aimed at helping to close the state’s massive budget gap, would add 12 cents to the price of a can of soda and 68 cents to the price of a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi, according to the governor’s estimates, reducing the average New Yorker’s consumption of sweet drinks by 10 percent to 15 percent.

Touted as a way to raise money in tough financial times while working to curb obesity, it has gained the support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and many health groups.

But Pepsi, the 1,300 people it employs throughout New York City and Westchester County and local independent distributors contend its passage would lead to massive layoffs and crippling decreases in sales that could force workers and businesses out of the city and state.

George Murn runs an independent Pepsi distribution business that uses six trucks to deliver Pepsi products throughout Queens. He said the tax would be so devastating to his business that if it passes he will have to quit since illegal distributors from New Jersey will be able to undercut his prices by such a high margin he will be unable to find any customers.

“This is horrible. I’ll just leave my keys to the truck and go find something else to do,” he said. “Please don’t pass the beverage tax. The people of New York can’t afford it. We just want to go out and do a day’s work and earn a decent living.”

But health industry representatives disagree, countering that revenues from the penny-per-ounce tax would save 2,700 jobs in the borough’s health-care sector.

“With hospitals closing, and with Queens already having the least hospital beds per population in New York City, Queens health-care jobs need to be protected,” Herlema Owens, a spokeswoman for the Alliance for a Healthier New York, said in a statement. “The soda tax is a win-win for New Yorkers- it protects thousands of well paying and important healthcare jobs, while also helping New Yorkers live healthier lives.”

Padavan agreed with the workers and Pepsi management, saying it is unfair to directly target one industry so heavily but fail to add a tax to fast food restaurants or other sectors that do little to encourage healthy eating habits.

He also said taxes are not the right way to fix the budget hole during a weak economy and that state government should instead focus on creating and maintaining jobs.

“To hit this industry, to single it out, doesn’t make sense. It just pushes workers and businesses out of NYC,” he said. “We can’t solve problems by reducing jobs. ... The key to saving our economy is increasing jobs and decreasing unemployment.”

Joe Wojciechowski, president of Teamsters Union No. 812, which represents the Queens Pepsi workers, quantified what he thought the impact of the tax would be if it were to be instituted.

“This would be devastating. We’d lose about 30 or 40 percent of our jobs he said. “It’s just a desperate grab for money.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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