My mother taught me that no means no, but Mayor Nutter apparently never learned that lesson. Just a year after the public and City Council roundly rejected his proposed tax on sugary beverages, he is revisiting this wrongheaded, regressive idea.
It became clear last year that Philadelphians have no taste whatsoever for Nutter's nanny-state tax on beverages such as soda, iced tea, fruit juice, chocolate milk, and sports drinks. Nutter couldn't even muster enough support on Council to put the tax to a vote.
While the public's distaste for the soda tax remains, Nutter's rationale for it has changed. Last year, it was all about improving public health. Now it's supposedly needed to help the beleaguered Philadelphia School District plug its gaping budget hole. (The mayor's other proposals for shoring up the district are not very attractive, either: another 10 percent increase in property taxes and higher parking fees in Center City and University City.)
Given the School District's well-documented record of bloated salaries, excessive expenses, and fiscal mismanagement, I know I'm not alone in questioning whether an additional city subsidy is really required. And it's upsetting that schoolchildren are being used as political pawns in this debate. This isn't about our children's future; it's about the present accountability of adults.
Coming from Northeast Philadelphia and a working-class background, I know the ill-considered soda tax would especially hurt the city's middle-class and poor families, a fact the mayor does not seem to grasp. At 2 cents an ounce, it could double the cost of sugar-sweetened drinks, causing many residents either to stop buying them or to travel to the suburbs to do so.
Many city stores would stop stocking these beverages, soda companies' sales would decline, and black markets would develop. And don't be surprised if city retailers apply the tax to all beverages - sugar-sweetened or not - to simplify their bookkeeping.
Beverage-industry statistics show that when soda prices rise 10 percent, sales drop 8 to 9 percent. Such reductions in soda sales would mean job losses. If Nutter somehow gets this tax approved, as many as 4,000 local jobs could be lost.
There are thousands of family-sustaining, middle-class, local jobs - in production, supply, distribution, and retail - that depend on the health of the beverage industry. The loss of any of those jobs would only further erode the city's tax base. How would that help the city or the School District emerge from fiscal distress?
Finally, the proposed soda tax would be discriminatory. Taxing these particular products and this particular industry, while exempting many other products containing high levels of sugar or other potentially unhealthy ingredients, would be simply unfair. What would stop the city from singling out other foods - ice cream, candy, cookies, Popsicles, doughnuts - that officials deem to be less than healthy? It's a slippery slope toward a "Big Brother" society that none of us wants.
We Philadelphians already face one of the highest overall rates of taxation in the country, and the soda tax would be an additional burden on families that are already struggling to make ends meet. Mayor Nutter must recognize that no means no.