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February 29, 2016

A soda tax to fund pre-K and city parks? Seems fair to me

Kenney wants to do what Nutter couldn't: Outmaneuver soda bottlers, workers and lobbyists

Taxes Opinion
Soda Tax Matt Rourke/AP

Union members protest in opposition to a proposed tax on soda and other sugary beverages in view of City Hall on Tuesday, June 14, 2011, in Philadelphia.

Here’s what I remember most about the last time a Philadelphia mayor tried to institute a soda tax: A former Republican city councilman at-large turning back toward the audience in chambers and hoisting a can of cola in the direction of an area bottling baron who stood by the back of the room.

It was a telling moment, one that said an elected official was toasting Big Soda’s 2011 effort to flush the city's money-making idea away. He wasn’t alone on the legislative body, but his actions spoke volumes.

It’s also the image that first came to mind when I saw Julia Terruso’s story further detailing how new Mayor Jim Kenney will revive the effort during his budget address to Council later this week.

When a soda tax was proposed last time, there wasn’t really a concrete argument as to why it was needed. When a soda tax is proposed this time, there’s word that a potential $400 million infusion over the next half-decade will help fund community schools, parks-and-recreation improvements and minimalist pension relief. ("This will be successful this time," Kenney is reported to have said.)

In other words, proponents could conceivably say they’re doing it for the kids, outdoorsy types and those of advanced age.

And you know what? Despite looming cries of no new taxes, they should do it.

Sugary drinks, like tobacco, are not good for me and they are not good for you. If the cover charge to drive on the highway to obesity and diabetes is an extra 36 cents per 12-ounce can -- so be it.

Granted, the fight will be just as passionate as it was five years back. Surely, we’ll hear about how many jobs will be “lost” if the cash-machine bottlers have to pony up extra cash – along with the responses involving what other taxes would have to rise in order to fund Kenney’s inaugural mayoral-year proposals. Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

I’ll be over at City Hall on Thursday to watch how it plays initially as we get more details about the winding candyland path ahead, but I already know this much: When times are financially tight, tough choices must be made, but considered in a big-picture sense, this one's not really tough at all.

When Council finally puts the idea up for vote, I hope to see some of its members turn back toward an audience and propose a toast to the 3-year-olds who need quality pre-K in a city that sorely lacks it, retirees who need their pension funds to exist comfortably and anybody who likes using Philadephia’s parks and rec centers.