When politicians see something bad heading at them, they’re advised to hang a lantern on it, to put it in a spotlight they can control.
That’s what the Kenney administration is doing with the nation’s highest soda tax, the controversy around which they thought was a dead horse and which the Inquirer Editorial Board also hoped had passed.
But the soda tax issue, a zombie that refuses to die, was resuscitated by the federal indictment against the Local 98 Eight. It reveals a fascinating tale about alleged union skulduggery that makes it seem (to careless readers) as if Local 98 invented the soda tax to punish its frenemy, the local Teamsters union.
It is not true, but some people are buying it. Or saying it, anyway.
Local 98 leader John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty may have backed the tax proposal to hurt the Teamsters for saying bad things about him — what is this, eighth grade? — but his union did not birth the tax.
In an early defense of his signature achievement, Mayor Jim Kenney last week told reporters the soda tax idea came from Finance Director Rob Dubow, but that is not entirely true.
In an op-ed in the Inquirer posted Feb. 1, Dubow and mayoral Chief of Staff Jim Engler hung a lantern on the soda tax problem. Engler also talked about it Monday morning on WHYY as part of the cleanup squad.
In brief, the indictment says Dougherty got BFF/employee City Councilman Bobby Henon to push the soda tax because it would cost about 100 Teamsters jobs.
In addition to allegedly bad-mouthing Johnny Doc, the Teamsters supported Anthony H. Williams for mayor, while Local 98 supported Kenney.
So much for background.
Fair discussion of the oppressive tax was made impossible by the Kenney Progressive Gang’s Alinsky tactic of painting the bottling industry as robber barons who eat children for breakfast.
In the op-ed, when Dubow/Engler — who did not respond to emailed questions — write that Kenney didn’t get the tax idea from Dougherty, that is true. When they later write that “the tax was the result of creative thinking,” that is not true, unless you define plagiarism as “creative thinking.”
The soda tax was floated almost a decade earlier by Mayor Michael Nutter.
And who opposed it? If you guessed then-Councilman Jim Kenney, give yourself a prize off the top shelf. The Daily News also opposed it.
A few years later, campaigning for mayor, Kenney said he would pay for his ideas using zero-based budgeting as an elixir for what ails us.
His words: “Through zero-based budgeting, Philadelphia will have $80 million to reinvest in schools, or universal pre-K.”
But after his election Mayor Houdini made that vanish and pounced on the soda tax.
Kenney vilified the bottling and soda retail industry, creating a false narrative that painted it as a criminal enterprise that was bilking customers, profiteering off the poor, and being callous to “the children.” He said “seven-figure bonuses” were paid to soda execs, but he couldn’t back that up when he was challenged. It was vicious and false.
When Kenney was making his pitch for “the children,” he forgot to mention a walloping $24 million earmarked for the city (slush) fund balance. No lantern was hung on that.
Now it seems some crimes may have been committed — but by Kenney allies, not the bottlers.
That’s why the Kenney Progressive Gang is scrambling to keep his one big achievement walled off from Local 98 activities. It doesn’t want to be defined by half-truths, a technique it uses itself.