By Minister Rodney Muhammad
Since I was a child, I have been fascinated with Greek mythology. I would watch both hero and villain alike. The titans I speak of in this context though are the soda drink industry and government.
Since Mayor Jim Kenney proposed a three-cent-per- ounce tax on sugary drinks, sparks have flown nationwide. Some of it has even entered the presidential race, at least among the democratic candidates. Secretary Hillary Clinton expressed public support for the tax while her opponent for the party nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, called it regressive.
Since the initial proposal, a great deal has taken place and the inclination to run for political cover has started. We expected misleading claims by those opposed to the tax. The soda companies have spent over 200 million nationwide to kill any efforts to have them bare some share of the load.
Some call this a grocery tax stating that it is regressive, will hurt small businesses, cause truck driver layoffs and will be an unduly burden to the poor. It makes individuals sound kind of noble to make these assertions.
The truth however is that these giants make enormous profits by escaping the American worker, situating their plants in less industrialized nations, bypassing taxes and augmenting profits. Their off-shore accounts keep the billions they make out of the public eye. These beverages sell in over 200 countries and they make more profits than the gross domestic product of 70 countries. They have a right to make a handsome profit but if many of those plants were here, many poor people wouldn’t be poor.
The known fear of the big soda giants is that many cities throughout America will follow behind Philadelphia wanting the needed tax revenue for financially strapped urbanites. This is why they spend in the millions to prevent a sugary drink tax. Expenditures could well have started universal pre-K and begun the fixing up of the 400 or more libraries and recreation centers that haven’t seen renovation since Richard Nixon was president.
Now misleading ads and the new thing, a political decoy called a container tax proposal, seek to derail Mayor Kenney’s push to keep a campaign promise.
How are the poor hurt?: Billboards, posters, magazine space and celebrity inducement.
Soda companies aggressively market 5 to 18 times greater among the poor Black and Latino young than any other demographic. Now with the poor health reports, along with deteriorating communities and dysfunctional schools, shows the poor are already hurting. Truckers carry much more than sodas. How will they be out of work with all the products they are responsible for transporting to stores throughout America? Probably why so many labor leaders support the tax. Small business is not taxed, where is their loss? Nearly 65,000 businesses in Philadelphia are tax exempt up to $100,000 of their gross receipts.
What potentially could cause harm is a container tax that would increase cost for practically all beverages they sell at 15 cents per unit over 7 ounces. That qualifies as a grocery tax if ever there was a standard to pass the test. Choices are eliminated with a container tax due to assessing at the wholesale and/or retail levels. The consumer cannot avoid it.
The word regressive has been loosely tossed around and we should take a good look at it. The word actually means backward movement. That would make the wage tax regressive. Entrepreneurs lease more spaces across city line than do businesses in Philadelphia. High paid skilled workforce can’t remain high paid if bites out of their paycheck are turned over to the city in the form of the wage tax every year. I understand even City Council would like to see this tax regress off the books. It’s a disincentive and cannot serve as a good invite to businesses that seek a skilled workforce. The liquor tax has proven difficult to collect and the cigarette tax that everyone said would not work actually produced more tax revenue than anticipated.
Enough about the Titans of big soda and government. Philadelphia cannot afford to squander this critical period between ages 3 to 5 years of age where studies show 90 percent of a child’s brain develops. The advantages make doing it irresistible. Entering kindergarten with pre-literacy skills reduces high school dropout rates and cuts delinquency where any given day 12,000 children are truant in Philadelphia. Reading and math skills at grade level are improved. Literacy advocates’ last report showed 550,000 people in the city cannot fill out an application for employment.
Fortunately, crime should suffer a blow, as studies broadcast those exposed to pre-K learning are rarely found building a criminal profile later in life. One recreation center and park were redone at Hunting Park and crime within a half mile radius fell by 89 percent.
I would rather be singled out by the soda industry than to have my grandchild single me out because I failed him when I had the chance to do something. Join us, support Mayor Kenney’s soda tax.
The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the management of the Philadelphia Sunday SUN or its advertisers.