In the News
Philadelphia Business Journal - May 3, 2016
Former New York Mayor Bloomberg backs pro-soda tax ad campaign in Philly
Philadelphia's proposed sugary drinks tax again bubbled up for discussion today during a City Council budget hearing. Addressing the city's health commissioner, City Council President Darrell Clarke said he doesn't believe a tax on soda and other sugary drinks will generate enough money to support pre-K and other initiatives of the Kenney administration.
Michael Bloomberg was a difference maker in the passage of Berkeley, California's sugary drinks tax, and now the former mayor of New York is aiming to do the same in Philadelphia.
Bloomberg contributed to the advertising campaign set to be launched by Philadelphians for a Fair Future, a nonprofit that supports the 3 cents per ounce soda tax the Kenney administration is proposing, said Kevin Feeley, a spokesman for the organization.
"We are just trying to balance the scales in terms of telling the other side of the story," explained Feeley, who said the campaign cost $825,000.
The ad is set to launch Thursday with the bulk of the money put towards spots on television. Feeley said $150,000 of the total spending went towards radio and another $50,000 was used on digital ads.
Earlier this month, reports showed the beverage industry is spending more than $1.5 million on ads lobbying against the mayor's budget proposal. The American Beverage Association, a national trade group, has rebranded the sugary drinks tax as a "grocery tax" and claimed it will cause job losses, although other economic experts deny those assertions.
"We don't anticipate matching them dollar for dollar," said Feeley. "But the campaign ... will start spreading some of the facts and the benefits of the campaign as opposed to the misinformation the opponents are spreading."
Kenney echoed the nonprofit's statement, saying: "It’s great to have the support of a nationally recognized businessman. I hope these ads will correct the misinformation the other side has already spent millions spreading.
Details on the exact dollar amount Bloomberg contributed to the pro- soda tax campaign were not disclosed, although he was reportedly the biggest donor to support a similar measure in Berkeley in 2014, contributing $657,000.
Philadelphians Against the Grocery Tax Coalition called out the out-of-towner and played up the rivalry between the two East Coast cities in a statement about Bloomberg's campaign contribution.
"Bringing in a New Yorker to force his personal agenda on Philadelphia families is the latest desperate act from an administration that admits it is losing in its attempts to foist this regressive tax on our city," Anthony Campisi, a spokesman for the anti-soda tax group. "The people of New York rejected and resented Mayor Bloomberg's overreaching policies when he was mayor, and now he's trying to export them to Philadelphia families."
Bloomberg was unsuccessful in his efforts to curb soda consumption in New York. With a focus on public health, he instituted a ban on oversized sodas, but the regulation was struck down after Bloomberg left office by the New York's Court of Appeals.
The New Yorker than shifted his fight against sugar to Berkeley, where a 1 cent per ounce tax is now in place.
Unlike in Berkeley and other cities around the country where a sugary drinks tax has failed – including twice in Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney has taken a different approach.
Instead of associating the tax to public health, a "sin tax," Kenney tied his proposal to the funding of quality pre-K programs in the city and the overhaul of libraries, recreation centers and other public park space.
His strategy brought about interest from another New Yorker – the New York Times, which reported Kenney's strategy "could be a shrewd political choice in a city where district representatives want to show results in their community."
This is the second time this month, a former New York politician put the spotlight on Philadelphia's proposed sugary drinks tax.
Ahead of the Pennsylvania primary last Tuesday, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton said she backed Kenney's proposal. Her challenger, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, however, criticized the proposal and said it would disproportionately impact lower-income and middle-class families.
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