THE STORY so far:
Fulfilling a campaign promise, Mayor Kenney advances a plan to offer prekindergarten to all Philadelphia children financed by a three-cent-an-ounce tax on sugary sodas and drinks.
The $95 million Kenney says will be raised by the tax will be used to subsidize pre-K but also feed a fund to step up repairs on recreation centers, libraries, police stations, and other city buildings.
City Council embraces the pre-K and repairs to buildings in their districts, but hems and haws over the sugary-drink tax. Some of them ask: Can't the money be found elsewhere? Without saying where that somewhere is. Council President Darrell Clarke calls the Kenney tax proposal "ridiculous," and indicates that he may be against it - to what degree is unknown.
Enter the beverage industry, with a coordinated ground and air attack on the "Grocery Tax" as it calls it, saying it would unfairly burden poor people, who are big consumers of high sugar drinks.
The beverage industry has called the sugary-drink tax a "Grocery Tax," but it really is not. You can avoid it entirely by choosing other options. A proposal by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, for a 15-cent tax on every beverage container sold, really is a Grocery Tax because no shopper could avoid it, even if you were a health freak who drank only bottled water.
Council has a meeting to consider both proposals, but neither apparently has the nine votes needed to pass a bill. Council decides to go Hmmmmmmm again and do more mulling.
Enter Council President Clarke. This is where it gets weird. He sends a memo to Council saying that in the interest of coming to a consensus he includes a chart that contains 10 different variations of a sugary-drink/container tax.
An example: One would levy a 75-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages and diet soda and a 5-cent container tax that would exclude sugary beverages and diet soda.
It's more an exercise in list-making than in leadership. If Council members couldn't decide between two proposals, how can we expect them to decide among an additional 10? Actually, there is one way.
Give a number to each proposal, one through 12, write them down on 8 x 11 sheets of paper and tack them on a wall. Give each Council member a dart and ask them to try to hit one of the sheets. The sheet that ends up with the most darts on it is the proposal that gets passed into law.
Of course, we are just kidding - and we hasten to say that before Councilman David Oh embraces the idea.
Not to oversimplify, but may we suggest another path: Compromise.
Kenney has asked for three-cents an ounce; Clarke has tacitly agreed to one-cent an ounce.
Could they meet somewhere in between - say two cents or 1.7 cents or 1.5 cents - and pass that bill?
It is a win-win for everyone - except the beverage industry.
The other path is to use the proliferation of plans to create paralysis. With no option getting to nine votes, the various bills sit on the table at least until the fall, and maybe never pass.