Reclaiming revenue from sugary drinks is an idea whose time has come

When Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney explained to New York Times columnist Mark Bittman why he is looking to a sugary drinks tax for funding to lift kids out of poverty, he minced no words:

“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.”


Indeed, it is an idea whose time has come, from Boulder to the Bay Area.  But at the moment all eyes are on Philadelphia, where the City Council is meant to adopt a budget – with or without the tax – by July 1. Debate over the merits of using a sugar tax similar to those on tobacco is getting a flurry of both national and local coverage

In one story on PBS Newshour, a parent and store owner say they worry that fear of disappointing kids who want “sugar-based drinks” could pressure low-income consumers to keep buying higher-priced drinks. But others in the story note that some of those same kids could get chances they otherwise wouldn’t through the programs to be funded.

As Bittman wrote in The New York Times:

“This tax will benefit low-income residents in two ways: It will increase their services and decrease their likelihood of developing chronic disease. Nothing regressive about that.”

Looking at whether this tax on a “predatory industry” is Philadelphia’s best hope for progressive change, Jake Blumgart wrote in The Nation:

“All of which means that Big Soda is right to be worried—and progressive lawmakers are right to be taking notes. If Kenney succeeds in taxing the beverage companies, even at a less robust level, Big Soda runs the risk of becoming the next go-to industry for revenue-starved city governments looking to bring support and services to its residents.”

Even Money Magazine proclaimed in its headline, “Philadelphia Figured Out a Soda Tax That People Like.”

As the Philadelphia Daily News said in its editorial:  

“Council has two choices: It can help the city's children who would benefit enormously from quality pre-K or it can bow before the beverage industry.

It cannot have it both ways. So, summon up your courage, Council and do the right thing.”



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