Philly mayor’s messaging was key to soda tax success

As other cities look to repeat Philadelphia’s success in taxing sugary drinks to support important community priorities, they will no doubt look back to Mayor Jim Kenney’s framing of the issue and his consistent use of messages to support it throughout the campaign. Here, for your handy reference, are some of his best lines:

In his March 3rd budget address, the mayor made the case for the sugary drinks tax as the only way to fund universal pre-K and other benefits for poor and minority communities – the same communities that Big Soda targets with millions of dollars spent on advertising its harmful products:

 “But none of that can happen, not the stimulus, not the reduction in taxes, not pre-k, not community schools, not desperately needed investment in parks, rec centers and libraries, if we don’t pass a sugary drink tax.  There is simply nowhere else to find this revenue…


“The most persuasive argument of all for the tax is that Philadelphians elected us to implement the very programs this revenue will fund.”

On March 16th, he said this about taxing sugary drinks:

"I don't think I can fail, based on the people who are standing behind me because they are Philadelphia. They're not corporate America, they're not Big Soda, and this is not personal toward Big Soda, but there's a lot of money being made off the backs of poor people.

“And the argument they'll make is that this is a tax on the poor. Well, they've been taxing the poor for generations, and what we're looking to do is take some of that profit and put it back into the neighborhoods."

In an interview with the New York Times, he was asked about the health benefits of the tax and said:

 “There’s really serious health benefits in pre-K.” And he’s right: Data consistently show that those whose life chances are improved by education generally live longer, healthier lives.

Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton spoke in support of his plan but when it was criticized by Bernie Sanders, Kenney replied:

 "I'm disappointed Sen. Sanders would ignore the interests of thousands of low-income - predominantly minority children - and side with greedy beverage corporations who have spent millions in advertising for decades to target low income minority communities.”

In another interview with the New York Times he said:

 “We are going to a source where there is substantial profit and one that has the ability to take that hit and not skip a beat. They sell more of their product in poor communities than elsewhere, and for generations none of that profit was passed on to those communities. There is no downside to this other than that the three major soda companies may make a little less money.”

 When the city council voted in favor of the sugary drink tax, he said:

 “This is the beginning of a process of changing the narrative of poverty in our city.”

After signing the sugary drink tax into law, Kenney said in an in-depth interview with Politico:

 “This time the revenue was tied specifically to initiatives that people want to see happen. I honestly believe that there's an element of nanny-state pushback when people are told what they should and shouldn't drink or smoke or eat. And we knew from past experiences that the health issue — although it's real and it's an ancillary benefit, an important one — that if we constructed the effort just on that we would have failed again. The pre-K commission did its work. It was clearly a strong identification with pre-K needs…

“It never was a grocery tax. From my perspective and my opinion, their miscalculation is that they thought the people were stupid and that they would totally eat the idea of a grocery tax…

“I think that they seemed to be a bit unfocused in articulating why [they were opposed]. It was just, ‘it's bad,’ it's a grocery tax, it's regressive, it's going to fall on poor people — which I thought was kind of laughable because they made their billions of profits off of poor people for generations and we were asking for a little bit of the money to stay in neighborhoods so we could fix up rec centers and libraries and send kids to pre-K and they would rather maintain their profits than give the kids a chance at a pre-K education and a successful life…

“What I want to do is beat poverty.”

He summed up his advice to other cities looking to replicate what Philadelphia was able to achieve:

“Tie it to initiatives that the public wants. Build a coalition around those initiatives. And just continue to grow the coalition and don’t worry about the big money. It’s clear now that the big money isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”



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