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Philadelphia’s Mayor took on big soda to fund pre-k, but will it pay off?

July 15, 2016
Economics and FinanceGovernance and AccountabilityState & Local
Reed DesRosiers
Washington Monthly

In June, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (D) won a vicious and public battle against difficult odds. In his fight, the mayor positioned himself on the side of all that is just and right, a champion of the more than 17,000  low-income three- and four-year-olds in Philadelphia who lack access to quality public pre-K. The foe? The American Beverage Association, the Goliath to Kenney’s David, who spent almost $5 million since March to defend the soda empire. The City Council supported Kenney’s campaign in a 13-4 vote, passing a 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks and diet sodas that the administration says will be used, at least partially, to fund a universal pre-K program. This adds a $2.16 tax on a twelve pack of Coke, raising it from $4.00 to $6.16, an effective 54 percent tax.

Many assert that Kenney succeeded in passing a soda tax where others have failed because the reason for levying the tax was more popular. Kenny and his supporters sold the tax as a viable source of revenue to fund pre-K for the city’s youngest learners, rather than a big-brother(ly love) initiative to force health upon the masses. At first, the issue seems clear cut. A happy-ending tale where the good guy defeats the bad! But upon deeper investigation, the black and white of right and wrong becomes more gray.