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Philly.com - May 12, 2016

Giordano: Soda-tax supporters aren't seeing the full picture

MAYOR KENNEY'S proposed tax on sugary drinks has gotten Bernie Sanders, Michael Bloomberg and Warren Buffett to be involved in the debate. Sanders correctly saw the tax as regressive and a burden on poorer Philadelphians. He was chastised by all sorts of big, nanny-state liberals as not understanding that this tax was not just about funding universal prekindergarten. Stephen Stromberg, writing in the Washington Post, said of Sanders' view, "The point of soda taxes is to guide people away from over-consuming a product that no one needs to live and that should be treated as an indulgence."

So even big-government Bernie doesn't get that nanny-state nutritionists and the Starbucks crowd want to make the decisions for those who can't think for themselves. In their self-righteous view, consumers are being bamboozled by Big Soda and it's up to them to tell the real truth: put down their Mountain Dew and recognize this tax is like parents telling their young children to eat their vegetables. This whole thing drips of snobbery.

Cue the second "B" in the story - Bloomberg. He is a contributor to the pro-tax group called Philadelphians for a Fair Future. According to the Inquirer, he's joined by Houston billionaire couple John and Laura Arnold. So it's hard to talk about evil Big Soda when billionaires are lining up to advance their own personal causes.

By the way, I love that the anti-tax people call this a grocery tax. That label bothers the other side, but it gets at the fact that this tax is on all sugary drinks. In fact, Sen. Pat Toomey said on my radio show, in response to Katie McGinty, his opponent in this fall's election for Senate and a supporter of the tax, "It's even the juice box in the kids' lunch box."

This battle has even reached Buffett. The renowned investor and Cherry Coke drinker was confronted at his annual shareholders meeting last month over Berkshire Hathaway's investment of a 9 percent stake in Coca-Cola. The Financial Times reports that Buffett said "I make a choice to get 700 calories from Coke. I like fudge a lot, and peanut brittle, and I am a very happy guy." There it is. It's about choice and happiness and not about some bean counters using the power of government to dictate your beverage of choice.

The fourth "b" in this battle are bodegas. I was told off the record by a well-known Philadelphian of Latino heritage that this tax will really hurt the small Latino mini-marts often located in difficult neighborhoods. These small stores serve neighborhood needs and employ people.

In fact, at a recent rally at City Hall, Miguel Martinez, the head of the Dominican Merchants Association, underlined all of this as he made his remarks in Spanish. Will Kenney and the soda police now stoke attacks against Big Bodega? Will they say they are complicit in making people fat?

I contrast the passion of people protecting their jobs and their choices with that of Mollie Michel, a Philadelphia public school parent and blogger at achildgrows.com. She attended testimony before City Council of both sides over the sugary drinks tax. She had her 6-year-old with her, and the child asked, "Mommy, why don't these people want money to go to our schools?" Michel explained, "It's complicated." She then went on to blog about the real answer. She wrote: "Because those with the most money often have the loudest voice. Big Soda can afford t-shirts and buttons and giant signs and probably paid most of these people to be here."

I realize this is a parent wanting the best for her child. However, the real answer to the question is that the soda people don't want schools to be underfunded. They are revolting against being targeted and often maligned. They are engaged in free enterprise, and that system is under attack from people too afraid to find money for pre-K in the bloated budgets of the City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Public Schools.

There is no Big Soda behind the curtain. There are only moms and dads who think a bottle of soda is the least of our problems. It's time to just let them alone.

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