An Illinois Senator is backing away from a suggestion he made in committee Tuesday that parents with obese children have their $2,000 standard tax deduction withheld.
State Sen. Shane Cultra, a Republican who represents the small, Illinois farm community of Onarga, made the comments while legislators debated taxing juice, soda and energy drinks in an effort to reduce childhood obesity in the state.
"It's the parents' responsibility that have obese kids," Cultra said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I think you need to look at a bill to take the tax deduction away for their child if he's obese. ... In poorer families, they actually get money for their kids. I'd take that money away." (Scroll down for video)
News of Cultra's remarks quickly spread, and everyone from Rush Limbaugh to the New York Times and Gawker weighed in on the matter. Cultra's office told Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass that people were calling "all morning as far as from New York."
Cultra seemed surprised by the media attention, and quickly issued a statement that called the comments "tongue-in-cheek":
“I certainly regret my choice of words in the recent debate on Senate Bill 396," he said in the statement. "It was a tongue-in-cheek comment taken out of context - and should not be taken seriously. I am sensitive to the need to reduce childhood obesity. But I don’t believe a new tax on everyone who buys juice, soda and energy drinks will accomplish the goal. Parents have to take some responsibility.”
One in five Illinois children are classified as obese and 62 percent of the state's adults are overweight, but the soda tax measure is not the answer, according to several Illinois lawmakers.
Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, said the state needs to stop going after "low hanging fruit" and come up with a plan to address physical fitness and disease prevention rather than taxing soda.
WATCH Cultra's comments here: