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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Philadelphia Sin Tax on Soda

Warm weather days are coming, and those frosty Big Gulp sodas are going to cost you if Mayor Nutter gets his way. The mayor’s proposed 2 cent per ounce tax on all sugared sodas, iced tea and chocolate milk drinks, means that the cost of a small can of soda will go up 32 cents. The price of a 2-liter bottle will increase by $1.35.

This means that even during those big sales when ten 2 liter bottles of Pepsi or Coke go for $10.00, with the Nutter tax you’ll wind up paying $23.00 for 10 bottles of soda.

A fair bottle of champage costs $23.00, and so does three small bottles of wine.

The mayor’s answer to the City’s current 150 million dollar deficit is to tax the already struggling consumer. But the madness doesn’t stop at soft drinks. In an even more twisted proposal from Nutterville, the mayor wants to impose a trash collection fee of $300.00 per household-- this despite the fact that city taxes already cover trash costs. The additional $300, then, is really a just an increase in property taxes.

The big question now is: Will City Council let the mayor get away with it? Not only that, will Council realize that it’s not the average Philadelphian’s fault that the city is 150 million dollars in the hole? After all, did the average Philadelphian create the budget deficit? Put the blame on the financial managers in City Hall, the “movers and shakers” of the city’s money. It’s not just to impose a huge tax burden on Philadelphians in the middle of a depression.

The humane thing to do in a depression, of course, is to cut costs, not raise them.

Many have asked, if the soda tax goes through, what’s next? Will there be a tax on doughnuts and bagels? Or how about taxing cheese steaks and hoagies, and putting a triple-whammy levy on French fries? The mayor could also work with Septa to get transpiration rates raised so high ($5.00 a ride) that Philadelphians would be forced to walk off its obesity problem.

Legislators across the nation are using the nation’s obesity problem as the reason for instituting a soda tax. Soda taxes are the current rage, even though poor people constitute most of the nation’s soda drinkers. Philadelphia already has some of the highest taxes in the nation. An increased tax burden will likely cause many people to leave the city, creating an even bigger deficit for future mayors.
Antifat Yale psychologist Kelly Brownell believes that junk food junkies should be hit where it hurts—in their wallets. “I recommend we develop a militant attitude about the toxic food environment, like we have about tobacco,” he’s on record as saying. Brownell wants to ban all high calorie foods and all kinds of sodas from schools. Several years ago Big Brother Brownell suggested federal legislation to tax all unhealthy foods. The so called “Twinkie Tax” never became law.

Brownell has his allies. William Dietz of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) says a soft drink tax would be “the single most effective measure to reverse the obesity epidemic.”

That’s not true. There are lots of food items that lead people to put on extra pounds, from potato chips to Dunkin Donuts.

The proposed tax, if approved by City Council, will not be collected as a sales tax but as a business privilege tax. The mayor wants it this way because to do a straight sales tax would mean his plan would have to get approval from the state legislature. In the end, retailers would be responsible for raising store prices across the board to compensate for the loss.

While sugared soft drinks are bad for you—the sugar composition in soda is 33% higher than in cookies and ice cream, according to the CDC —that doesn’t mean that the soda tax in Philadelphia has to be ten times the amount of the soda tax in Chicago, or thirty-five times Pennsylvania’s beer tax.

Visit any WAWA early in the morning and you will see as many people around the Big Gulp soda machine as hover around the coffee counter. Drinking soda with breakfast, in my book, is insanity and déclassé, but darn if I’m going to get up on a soap box and convince Big Gulpers that coffee goes so much better with breakfast than that cold sugary stuff.

You can’t force people to change their taste buds.

By the same token, as Philadelphia writer Buzz Bissinger noted, you can offer suggestions. “I have a novel solution for those who are fat,” Bissinger says. “Put less in your mouth.”

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