On the national beat, there's too many issues and too little time. Just in the last few hours, we've seen Hillary's major diss on The Donald's foreign policy (or "Foreign P" as he called it today on Twitter...seriously) in a speech in front of 741 American flags, and then Paul Ryan's Trump endorsement, a "profile in courage" that made history's weak Neville Chamberlain suddenly seem like Vlad the Impaler in comparison.
But locally, there's only one issue...or so it seems: The soda tax. This is Mayor Kenney's rookie-year roll of the dice. If he can get the tax on sugary drinks (and actually get some kids into pre-K, which is what the money is for, or so they say), Kenney will establish himself as a progressive who got something done, which -- for what it's worth -- would raise his national stature. Failure is a Groundhog Day thing -- because it would guarantee 4-8 more years of frigid gridlock between the mayor's office and city council. It would raise questions about whether a big city like Philadelphia can ever tackle poverty, and whether its political leaders can stand up to pressure from corporate lobbyists.
Earlier this spring, I shared my own thoughts. First and foremost, all Philadelphia children need pre-K (the money also funds other worthy programs such as rec centers.) The soda tax is a flawed vehicle that does too aggressively hit the poor, but given Pennsylvania's terrible tax law it's unfortunately the best option for making pre-K happen. But make it less than 3 cents an ounce. Add unhealthy diet soda. Push next for major tax reform so that, at some point, the wealthy pay their fair share for Philly's ongoing revival.
But a growing number of council members -- we'll find out more about exactly how many in the coming week -- want to go a different route. A really dumb (shocking, I know) route. They want to finance pre-K with a "container tax" -- a 15-cent-per-item assessment on a wide range of grocery products; in Baltimore, where such a tax exists, that list includes beer, malt beverages, distilled spirits, wine, wine coolers, ready-to-drink teas, carbonated water, spring water, and soft drinks -- all taxed at the distribution level.
I'll try to make this quick. It's a bad idea. The analysts say it won't raise enough money to fund much of the pre-K program, and it's a costly hassle to administer...so what's the point? The opponents of the soda tax have repeatedly lied to the public by falsely branding that levy "a grocery tax" -- but the container tax really is the "grocery tax." That means it's a regressive tax that falls hardest on lower-income families. The sugary-drink tax could actually fight obesity and improve public health in the city. The container tax will only reduce the weight of people's wallets, because no one can avoid it.