Detroit is not the first city to consider a tax on fast food. But given its $300 million budget deficit, the Motor City is likely to give it a try. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick wants Detroit voters to approve a 2 percent fast-food tax — on top of the 6 percent state sales tax on restaurant meals.
Other cities and states have special taxes on prepared food, and some have tried "snack taxes." In New York, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz has proposed a 1 percent tax on junk food, video games and TV commercials to fund anti-obesity programs.
Detroit's tax issue is a significant one. Michigan law limits Detroit's ability to raise income and property taxes; high taxes are a serious matter given the tremendous flight of people and businesses.
Two issues can stand in the way of becoming law:
A fast food tax affects those who can least afford it. In Detroit, that matters a lot.
What exactly is fast food? As yet undetermined, it may be like Justice Potter Stewart on pornography, "I know it when I see it." McDonald's is in; Big Boy is out. (Mmmm. Big Boy.) How fast does the food need to be to qualify? Subway is fast but healthy. And what about Tim Hortons?
And it's not even a tax, unlike the one in New York, designed to aid in the health of Detroiters. After all, with such a tax, Detroit will gain if its citizens gain, weight that is.
When Kilpatrick comes up with a definition of what is fast food, then we will know he's serious. Then, others may take it seriously if it works in Detroit. Until then, keeping eating those famous Detroit Coney Island dogs for or its locally based national pizza chains.