The tragedy in Orlando and the absurdities of how many of our public officials responded prevented me from quickly commenting on a huge story here in Philadelphia, as it became the first major city (although arguably Berkeley is pretty major in its own way) to pass a dedicated tax on soda, diet soda, and other sugary or artificially sweetened drinks.
This is a very good thing. It's a dedicated funding source that will allow Philadelphia to gradually expand pre-K and finally give a head start to kids in some of the city's tougher neighborhoods (and pay for a grab bag of other stuff, some of it badly needed and none of it -- despite the last-minute fear and loathing -- unnecessary).
This spring as Mayor Kenney's original proposal was debated before City Council, I worried in this space that the tax fell too hard on the city's poor, and I argued it should be lowered from the original 3-cents-an-ounce to no more than 1.5 cents and that it should include diet soda, which is also unhealthy. The final tax was 1.5 cents and included diet soda, so I can't complain! What's more, the arrogance of Big Soda -- and its fundamentally dishonest multimillion-dollar campaign calling the levy a "grocery tax" -- convinced me that the Kenney administration was doing the right thing.
But here's what stood out even more. For once, Philadelphia was leading the nation on a major issue. And not just any issue. After the years of civic disaster that were the 1970s and '80s, city government did slowly improve -- but too often what passed for "innovation" at City Hall was either blue-collar givebacks, tax breaks for big developers, and economic development that never trickled down to the neighborhoods. In a city that came to rank No. 1 nationally in deep poverty, creative government seem to sputter and die once you got a few blocks past Center City.
Over the course of 2015, Philadelphia elected its most progressive mayor and city council since the early 1960s, possibly ever. What happened last week was a positive reminder that 1) elections really can make a big difference and b) the ghosts of political gridlock that grew out of the city's often warped racial politics of the latter 20th Century have finally been ghost-busted. The soda tax was a huge victory for progress, but it should only be the start.
What's next? I think my colleague here at 801 Market Street, Inga Saffron, really showed the way forward with her call for a radical overhaul of the city's tax abatement program in a way that will allow Philadelphia's development boom to continue while better funding schools so that more families will stay here. Beyond that? Well, 2017 is kind of an off-election year except that Philadelphia has an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Cleveland and Chicago and actually elect a progressive district attorney. Will anyone step up to the plate?
That would dovetail nicely with the calls in recent days by Sen. Bernie Sanders and a boisterous gathering this weekend in Chicago to extend the political revolution beyond the Democratic convention in Philadelphia and beyond November.