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Philadelphia Tribune - May 17, 2016

Unfair sugary drink tax would feed bad habits

Lots of questions are swirling around the sugary drink tax debate. One is, what’s next? What bad habit should be chosen to fund our city services next time?

Without argument, pre-kindergarten is a worthy investment, and Philadelphia’s recreation centers and libraries are badly in need of repairs. But it appears the Kenny administration is completely convinced that the only source of revenue available to fund them is a hefty, 3-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary sweetened beverages.

Hence, our question, what’s next?

Taxes on red meat? Fried foods? Baked goods with high salt content? Jell-O with artificial, red-dye coloring? Why stop at sugar-sweetened beverages?

The answer, actually, is such taxation amounts to a slippery slope of where city revenue collection starts and where our freedom of food and beverage choices begin.

We think the city should provide 3- and 4 year-olds with quality early learning experiences to better prepare them for elementary school. We also agree that well-maintained libraries and recreation centers are services that are important to the quality of living in our city.

But should we ask a solitary industry – the beverage industry – to bear the brunt of paying for it?

This is unfair and counter to the whole idea of capitalism.

Other industries aren’t taxed so harshly – except, of course, for the cigarette industry. That product, too, was taxed as the result of legislators’ creative but lacking public funding ideas. The idea behind taxing cigarettes was that the product is bad for the customer’s health anyway. Taxes would decrease demand for the unhealthy product, while increasing money badly needed for Philadelphia schools.

Well, this paying-extra-for-your-bad-habits public funding option needs to stop. Policymakers are now just getting greedy or lazy.

Have they examined a 1 percent tax on our city’s rich nonprofits like the University of Pennsylvania? Have they looked into halting property tax rebates on luxury Center City properties?

Thus far, they’ve instituted policies that depend on smoking for schools and drinking soda for pre-K. Next, they’ll urge us toward potato chips for pot holes and strombolis for street repairs. This is no way to raise revenue for the services we want and need.

In addition, once the tax is applied, what’s to keep legislators from raising it higher later? Philadelphians are not currently taxed for food products. Will this kind of tax be the start of it?

In essence, we will all be beneficiaries of having a quality, pre-K system in our city. So the public revenue to pay for it should not just be collected from people with bad habits. Enough is enough.

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