HARRISON - Harrison Mayor/Supervisor Joan Walsh has issued a strongly worded statement, requesting Harrison residents to take immediate action to oppose NYS Governor David Paterson's proposed sugar tax on soft drinks.
In line with similar initiatives by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Paterson has suggested imposing a tax on sodas in an attempt to limit the intake of sugar, thereby lowering resulting health issues in children and adults in the state.
The suggested tax rate for such a 'sugar tax' would be one cent for each ounce of soda. Bloomberg has estimated that the tax would raise nearly $1 billion that could be earmarked for education and Medicaid. In his weekly radio address, Bloomberg supported the tax on soda, by referring to the city's success with raising money and lowering smoking through taxing cigarette sales. He predicted that the one cent soda tax could reduce consumption of soda by over ten percent, with significant improvements in the health of New Yorkers as a result. Paterson is considering supporting Bloomberg's "soda tax" initiative at a state level.
But the proposal of such a state tax creates serious financial issues for Harrison, as Walsh explained.
"A 'sugar tax' most likely will have a direct impact on Harrison far beyond what it will cost us at the supermarket," Walsh said.
The issue revolves around the tax's effect on PepsiCo, one of Harrison's largest corporate residents.
PepsiCo has its world headquarters here in Harrison, and the taxes it pays are an important element in enabling the town's tax rate to remain substantially lower than other neighboring towns in Westchester County. If PepsiCo became frustrated by the tax and left, the move would devastate Harrison's tax base.
"PepsiCo pays us more than $2.25 million in annual taxes," Walsh said. "Another state is wooing them to relocate, and is offering them substantial tax breaks and other amenities to do so."
Although PepsiCo has not said publicly that they are looking to move, the imposition of a state "soda tax" would make such a move even more desirable for the company.
PepsiCo had submitted a proposal to the Harrison Planning Board earlier this year requesting a major extension and renovation to their office buildings on their Purchase site. Those plans were initially held up due to residents' concerns over increased traffic problems on Anderson Hill Road.
The plans are now on hold.
If the expansion does not go ahead, the town stands to lose significant monies, according to Walsh.
"Those building permits and inspection fees would be substantial, and would help to keep our taxes down," Walsh said.
In requesting resident support for PepsiCo, Walsh stressed the added value the company brings to the town, in terms of employment and the environment.
"PepsiCo has been a very good neighbor to Harrison and its people. Everyone is welcome at their sculpture garden, they donate to many organizations and causes. They are keeping almost 100 acres 'forever green', they employ several thousand people, some of whom live here in town, but every one of whom spends his or her money locally."
Walsh is asking Harrison residents to immediately send an email to the governor and other senior politicians, stating the devastating affect that adopting the "sugar tax" will have on the economy of the Town of Harrison. She says residents should urge state leaders to reconsider the proposed tax, and to vote 'no' if it is brought forward.
Mayor Walsh underscored the critical nature and urgency of her request.
"I have never asked residents to do anything like this previously, but this is too important on many levels for me not to ask."
A pro forma e-mail, along with the contact information for Governor Patterson and other suggested officials, is available through the mayor's office, at 670-3005.