Last week we talked about the looming ballot referendum, a classic bait-and-switch that promises to cut taxes but actually transfers them from the wealthy and places them on the shoulders of the middle class. That probably weighed on your mind a bit this week.
Concerned about yet another humiliating budget impasse in Harrisburg? How about the state’s raging opioid epidemic? Crumbling infrastructure? $600M in cuts to colleges? How about not graduating a qualified workforce year after year because of underfunded education?
Philadelphia’s sweetened beverage tax probably doesn’t score very high on your list of state priorities. So why were legislators holding a hearing on it? Just more evidence that they’re fiddling while Rome is burning.
With the soda industry lobbying legislators hard while their ugly lawsuit plods its way through court, devouring scant tax dollars, retailers have been pressed to cite losses thanks to the tax. Pennsylvania Budget Policy Center’s Marc Stier questioned the numbers in his testimony:
“First, wild claims that groceries stores are losing 10% or more of their sales seem incredible on their face when a survey of grocery stores by their own trade magazine, Progressive Grocer, shows that only 6% of food sales and 2% of total sales come from all beverages, including those taxed and not taxed in Philadelphia.” Marc Stier, PBPC
Philadelphia Controller Butkovitz released a study that claimed Philadelphians are crossing city lines to purchase sweetened beverages. Stier questioned the analysis, pointing out the largest losses are in parts of the city that were farther from the city outskirts. Further, he noted a correlation between reported losses in existing grocery and corner stores and the expansion of a competitor.
“If one holds up a map of where the Aldi company recently re-opened Bottom Dollar stores and where the Controller found declines in sales, the overlap is quite striking.” Marc Stier, PBPC
But we don’t need to belabor the flimsy talking points of a wheezing industry in decline. The tastes of their former consumers have changed and Big Soda has been slow to adjust. That’s just business.
This hearing? That was about politics.
PCCY’s Donna Cooper was asked to testify in a PA Senate Committee on Local Government Hearing last week where she explained city council had held 43 hours hearings on the matter, including testimony from the business community, civic leaders, health experts and parents and children. None of those who testified at City Hall, it should be noted, were state elected officials who only now have concerns enough to hold their own hearings.
Did they bother to read any of the thousands of pages of transcripts?
“I thought long and hard and I simply cannot recall any piece of legislation in Harrisburg ever being subjected to as many open hearings, meetings and community discussions as the deliberative public process to impose the sugary drink tax.” Donna Cooper, PCCY
The sweetened beverage tax is working. Every one of the expanded 2000 pre-k seats are filled. Philadelphians think it’s worth it.
Maybe legislators should put out some fires before setting fire to new ones.
ALERT: Help protect children from toxic lead poisoning–we need to strengthen and enforce demolition standards!
For its inaugural ’50 over 50’, City & State PA honored PCCY’s Donna Cooper for her incredible impact on Pennsylvania through her “achievements, leadership abilities, philanthropic efforts and dedication to the betterment of the commonwealth!” Congratulations, Donna!