Not Feeling the Bern on Philly Soda Tax Issue

In the PA primary tomorrow I will vote for Bernie Sanders.

I don’t agree with any candidate on 100% of the issues, but with the environment my number one priority, there is no competition. (That said, when Clinton inevitably wins the primary, I will support her like she is my own mother.)

In the meantime, Sanders will not lose my vote on a small local issue. But his vocal dissension on an issue I feel passionate about has caused me enough pause to warrant this blog post.

While campaigning in Philadelphia, Clinton voiced her support for Mayor Kenney’s proposed tax on soda and sugary drinks to help fund a citywide pre-K program. Sanders immediately countered, calling the tax regressive. He then took it a step further, writing an entire Op-Ed for Philadelphia Magazine stating that the soda tax would hurt low income families.

“Mayor Kenney wants to raise $400 million from a tax on juice boxes, soft drinks, teas, flavored coffee and other sweetened drinks. His proposal would raise the price of a $1.00 soft drink to $1.24. That will hit many Philadelphians hard, especially the more than 185,000 people in the city who are trying to scrape by on less than $12,000 a year.”

I have a problem with the implication that poor people need to buy Coke and Kool-Aid. I actually find the idea that soda is an undeniable necessity of low income families to be classist, elitist, and borderline racist.

The health issues and related healthcare costs of sugary beverages are indisputable. In fact, some doctors have gone as far as to say that sugar is as dangerous as tobacco. Cigarettes are not illegal, but high cigarette taxes reduce smoking, especially among children. Similarly, no one is suggesting banning Pepsi – but simply raising the cost as a potential deterrent from overconsumption.

No one needs to drink Mountain Dew.

Water is essentially free. And before you tell me about the flaws in this country’s water safety, let’s break down some facts.

Yes, in light of Flint, Michigan and similar cases, the U.S. needs to seriously step up water safety standards. Still, an affordable and effective filtration pitcher will cost you no more than about $200 per year including filters. 

And, if all else fails, bottled water will not be taxed.

Do I think this is the best plan the city could come up with to fill a budget gap? No.

I think there are better ideas, not the least a plastic bag tax which has been shot down by city council in the past with the same logic of it being a “regressive tax for poor Philadelphians.” That one actually boggles my mind, as free reusable bags are easier to come by than toilet paper in a public restroom.

I don’t know if Sanders’ vocal stance on a city issue will make a difference, especially if Clinton wins the primary. And, again, it won’t be the catalyst to change my vote April 26th. But the argument that slightly impeding access to insidious crap is somehow unAmerican just doesn’t hold water.

Image from The Alliance for a Healthier Vermont (ironically Sanders’ homestate)

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