Soda Taxes

Philadelphia's Soda Tax Is About Raising Revenue, Not Public Health

Mayor Jim Kenney freely admits it's a way for the city to make money.

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Where my money?
Alexander Kaiser, pooliestudios.com / Flickr

New York Times health reporter Margot Sanger-Katz, who has cheer-leaded for increased taxes on soda for some time, published an article yesterday in praise of Philadelphia's "novel strategy" to promote its proposed (and likely to pass) measure increasing the price of sweetened drinks by one-and-a-half cents per ounce.

The game-changing strategy to sell a regressive tax that will disproportionately hit the pockets of the poor, as well as grant even more power to the government to regulate the personal choices of private citizens? Framing it as a revenue source, rather than as a do-gooder health measure. 

While it is true that there is an obesity crisis in this country and high-calorie and sugary drinks certainly do play their part in expanding American waistlines (though that part is frequently overstated), like so many Nanny State initiatives, Philadelphia's proposed tax is confusingly inconsistent right out of the gate. 

Sanger-Katz writes that to assuage the guilt of some members of the City Council that their tax will hurt lower income residents — because "Poor people tend to drink more sugary drinks than higher earners" — the measure also taxes sugar-free diet sodas (which are also frequently calorie-free), which "was an effort to spread the tax burden up the income scale."

The measure also exempts juice drinks, which naturally contain sugar, "as long as they have 50 percent juice, even if they also have added sugar." So essentially, the tax is based on the political preferences of the council members, not science.

In April, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney's proposed soda tax became a bone of contention in the Democratic presidential primary race, when Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) blasted his rival Hillary Clinton over her support of the measure. Sanders called it a "regressive tax" which violated Clinton's pledge to "not raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000."

Other traditionally Democratic interests are also opposed to the tax, including the Teamsters union, whose International Vice President Bill Hamilton said at a rally in Philadelphia yesterday, "The issue has never been about health and we will all end up paying for this tax with the job losses that will occur if the mayor's soda tax is passed."

It should also be noted that Sanger-Katz mentioned Mexico's national soda tax in her article yesterday, crediting the tax with causing a "substantial" drop in the "consumption of sugary drinks" for the first year of its existence. What Sanger-Katz neglects to mention is that Mexican soda sales rebounded a year later.

How could this be? In an article last month, Reason contributor Baylen Linnekin explains:

Soda tax supporters appear flummoxed, but undaunted. Their argument: it was hot. Really. Since 2015 was warmer than 2014, tax supporters argue, that can help explain the increase in soda consumption in Mexico.

A few months earlier, Linnekin noted that one of the prominent studies touting the success of Mexico's soda tax, which was published in the British Medical Journal, "was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies—which also provided $10 million to push Mexico to adopt the soda tax in the first place—and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which supports soda taxes. And yes, Bloomberg Philanthropies is former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's primary charity organization, whose stated mission is to "[create] lasting change" where "the greatest good can be achieved."

As mayor, Bloomberg was known for insinuating his personal health and diet preferences into policy, and his Nanny Statism did not cease when it came to charity. For example, he banned private food donations to homeless shelters because their salt content could not be verified. "The greatest good" apparently means less food for the hungry, just in case. 

But like Philadephia's soda tax, the appearance of "the greatest good" is more important to elected officials than demonstrable results. But unlike Bloomberg's initiatives, the City of Brotherly Love will make some money on policing people's diets. 

As Mayor Kenney's spokesman was quoted as saying in the Times' article, "It was always about the revenue."

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  1. Root beer rules!

    1. Which kind? Choose carefully.

    2. This might be the only thing I agree with you on.

        1. Tower Root Beer – sold mostly in Mass and NH.

          The company’s HQ is located in North Reading, MA.

          Of the widely distributed, national brands, IBC.

          1. IBC is good.

            Henry Weinhards is better. Much better.

            1. Is Henry Weinhards available in New England? I just briefly checked their site. According to the company, no availability in the area – I tried 5 zips between RI and MA.

              1. Unlikely. I didn’t know it was Oregon based. It’s expensive, but very good.

        2. The brown kind that isn’t Barq’s. I’m not going to play some retarded ‘who’s the smugger foodie’ game.

          1. But you’ve already won.

        3. River City Root Beer from Blue Dog Beverages.

          http://www.bluedogbeverage.com…..oz-bottle/

          1. I’ll have a look at BevMo. It’s the ideal time, since I’m taking a break from beer.

      1. “might” – HA!

  2. Hey Philadelphia voters, statists gon statist.

    Maybe this will get those urban communities who rubber stamp anyone with a D after their name in election after election to think twice about it.

    Nah, who am I kidding?

    1. Bloomberg had an R after his name. Just sayin’.

    2. Nah, who am I kidding?

      Why else do you think they do this shit? They know that no one’s gonna lose a re-election bid over this.

  3. the measure also taxes sugar-free diet sodas (which are also frequently calorie-free), which “was an effort to spread the tax burden up the income scale.”

    lol

    So is it about “health” or is it not? If its about Health, they’d want to tax calories. But its not. but then they’d be leaving the door open for poor people to simply switch to diet and avoid the tax. Can’t have that!

    1. It’s about fiscal, not physical, “health”.

      1. But of course they’ll probably spend more and their fiscal health won’t improve either…

    2. It’s about Starbucks’s and other non-soda makers’ profits. If you tax soda and diet soda, people will find substitutes and they’re hope you’ll switch to Starbucks or something else.

      I hope you’ve invested in alternatives to sodas!

      1. It’s about Starbucks’s and other non-soda makers’ profits.

        not remotely. those aren’t substitute-goods.

        tho i assure you, there will be similar axes on other similar consumables sooner or later (sooner)

        1. axes, taxes, whatever

        2. They kind of are, though. Caffeine and sugar.

          My wife gets a milkshake at Starbucks every morning. They don’t call it a milkshake, but it is.

          1. They kind of are, though. Caffeine and sugar.

            Sure. But substitute goods aren’t defined by ‘similar ingredients’ so much as ‘when/how they’re used, what they’re used for’. (aka “Occasions”)

            but, to your point – did they omit (carb+non-carb) Energy Drinks in the philly law?

            because in previous iterations of these types of laws they’ve tried to include them as ‘enough like Soda’, while still keeping the ‘single-serve juice-drinks’ exempt.

            Its all so retarded. All it amounts to is just the psychological foot in the door so that people can rationalize in their own minds why the government takes a bite of ‘this but not that’… until of course, they come for “that” and the story needs to evolve.

            1. But substitute goods aren’t defined by ‘similar ingredients’ so much as ‘when/how they’re used, what they’re used for’.

              Yeah, by far most of the soda that I consume is during the evening hours and accompanied by vodka. I can probably find a substitute but it won’t be anything like soda.

            2. If government can force you to buy insurance, they can sure-as-shit keep you from engaging in an unhealthful lifestyle.

          2. My wife gets a milkshake at Starbucks every morning.

            *(obligatory)

    3. It’s about health. The health of the overpaid city workers’ pension funds.

      1. ding ding ding

        “because they can” FYTW

        1. Well, it is not as if there are no, are just a few, public sector pension plans in trouble.

  4. For example, he banned private food donations to homeless shelters because their salt content could not be verified.

    I hope no-one points out to him the fact that American low sodium recommendations are too low and probably lead to higher deaths than a higher low sodium recommendation.

    Or that there’s such a thing as hyponatremia.

    1. Government is just the homeless people we starve together using bad science.

  5. I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.

  6. While it is true that there is an obesity crisis in this country

    No, it isn’t true. Stop pandering.

    1. Come to Kentucky.

    2. Phew, glad it’s not just me.

    3. Spend 5 minutes in a Wal-Mart anywhere in the deep south and then tell me there’s not obesity epidemic.

      1. Unless your argument is that the term “epidemic” is inappropriate here due to the fact that obesity isn’t an infectious disease, in which case carry on…

        1. I got bit by a fat guy! I put on 60 pounds and nothing I do will make it go away!

          1. Eat more frequently – 6-7 meals a day.

            If you don’t believe me, ask Warty.

  7. *sips Nantucket Nectars lemonade*

    Enjoy your diabeetus, suckas!

    Oh, wait….

    1. *sips a venti chai cr?me Frappuccino*

      Soda is a killer.

  8. From a Sanger-Katz piece Anthony did not link to (I think), titled Making a Soda Tax More Politically Palatable:

    Mr. Kenney is taking a different political tack. Instead of the usual eat-your-vegetables pitch of public health reformers, he is offering Philadelphians something delicious: a giant pot of money to fund popular city projects. He says his soda tax could raise more than $400 million over five years, enough to fund not just universal preschool, but also renovations to local libraries, parks and recreation centers; “community schools” that wrap social services with education; and cash for the troubled municipal pension program. He is not using the word obesity, or suggesting that people should drink less soda.

    His tax could raise the price of a 20-ounce bottle of soda by 60 cents, an increase likely to make some shoppers think twice. But when asked about the health benefits of the tax, he says, “There’s really serious health benefits in pre-K.”

    1. They won’t be raising shit when people just start hitting up the closest suburbs to stock up.

      1. Then it’ll only be a matter time before the mayor orders the Philadelphia PD to form a task force to tackle the scourge of black market sodas, and a short time after that some poor sap will get choked to death and all anyone will care about is his skin color and whether the cop who choked him out is a racist or not.

      2. Who they gonna choke out when he’s selling soda loosies?

      3. That’s exactly what will happen. People with cars will take a quick trip to a neighboring county. Commuters like me will grab a soda before crossing the bridge into PA.

        The poor people that this tax purports to help will either bear the burden, or switch to kale smoothies.

      4. And will Jim Kenney’s (D) soda tax apply at the DNC this July???

    2. THey always say this shit will go for parks and schools and puppies and rainbows, then the bureaucrats and pigs get together on some kind of alarmist marketing campaign about “War on Cops” or “Heroin Epidemic”, and all that lucre goes to the cops.

  9. “The measure also exempts juice drinks, which naturally contain sugar”.

    My Pineapple Orange Guava (POG) juice has white grape juice concentrate in it, but it’s OK! It’s natural!!!

    1. Pear and/or white-grape juice are usually the #2 ingredient after water in any “fruit-beverage”, no matter what it claims to be on the label.

      I fucking go nuts when retards like “Adam Ruins Everything” point stuff like this out and – instead of concluding that this is in fact ‘understandable’ because of things like “it helps make a product which achieves the target cost, shelf-stability, & flavor and profile the largest number of consumers want”….

      ….they act like its some kind of giant fucking conspiracy by the corporations to rape the poor consumers who were tricked into buying products from people like “HonesTea” or “SimplyJuice” or “WE SWEAR WE”RE NOT A CORPORATION corp”…which are actually no different in composition than from MinuteMaid, Tropicana, Snapple, or any other large beverage company.

      I’ve heard this complaint made a million times by consumers who think that what they really want is the *pure*, *unadulterated* juice of a [insert whatever their mythical ideal fruit is], packaged by fairly-compensated indigenous people, who don’t farm their fruits in any industrial way, but rather pick them from wild bushes growing on a lush mountainside…

      …when if you gave them *that*? It would a) cost $100 a bottle, and b) taste like diseased racoon piss because it would have spoiled before it ever left their jungle-abode.

      the shit is made from flavor-concentrates because *that’s how it works*

      1. “WE SWEAR WE ARE NOT A CORPORATION, corp.”

        Love it.

        I am going to use it.

        And if the mood strikes me, I’ll credit you.

        1. WeSWANAC, Inc.

  10. OT: we just moved to an open floor plan office (your tax $$ at work renovating space that was brand new 6 years ago and perfectly adequate), and now one of my fucking co workers is playing a Bernie speech without fucking headphones.

    I. Hate. People.

    1. Just play your favorite Trump speech… without headphones.

        1. Or just react in the true spirit of a Berniebot and punch him in the face, then set his desk on fire.

      1. LOL @ “favorite Trump speech”

        Maybe I should just get him some cheap headphones and leave them on his desk…

        1. Have the cold robotic voice of your computer read out one of my stories.

          1. +1 Professor Falken

            1. WOULD YOU LIKE TO TOUCH MY PENIS?

          2. And risk being sued to cover the cost of the poor retard’s therapy bills?

            1. Blame it on a computer virus that you picked up in Thailand from fucking underage ACER laptops.

          3. HAHHAAAA!

            I will keep that in my back pocket if I’m ever looking to get fired…

            1. …fired, involuntarily committed, whatevs!

    2. One of my coworkers plays Rush from noon to three without headphones. I don’t really mind Limbaugh, but it’s at that magic volume where you can hear it but not understand it. Which is really annoying. So I put on college radio without headphones. Right now they’re playing Cuban dance music. Muahahahaha!

      1. Can’t you get Jeff Kuehner (WRKO Boston) up there?

        1. Do you like Kuehner, Mike? I agree with him philosophically, but can’t stand his voice.

          1. First and foremost, like Rush, he is a damn good entertainer.

            Second, when he’s vilifying “The Dear Leader” and whacking “Paul Rino Ryan” and criticizing “Chief Spreading Bull”, I like him.

            Three, when plays cop apologist or rags on Muhammad Ali for “draft dodging”, I want to throttle him.

            He is intelligent and funny and I do like how he talks about his family and I get the impression that he is a good family man and it is not phony.

      2. Oh, I thought you meant the band.

      3. but it’s at that magic volume where you can hear it but not understand it.

        ok, not just me, thx.

    3. Who ever went to an open floor plan without a policy prohibiting people from emitting audio pollution (content-neutral, of course) into the workplace should be kicked until they do adopt and enforce such a policy.

      1. In almost 20 years in my cubicle career, I have never encountered a person who played any audio without headphones. Unbelievable.

        1. Its beyond a micro aggression. At least according to my auditory safe space requirements.

        2. There is a whistler that sits diagonally from me. It’s always just some tuneless nonsense that makes me crazy. I just end up throwing on my headphones and playing something to block it out.

          1. Every once in a while I got trapped next to a mumbler or a hummer on my commute. It makes me mental.

            1. Every once in a while I got trapped next to … hummer on my commute

              You should ask her to do you next…

              1. I sensed I was leaving myself open to something there but I went with it anyway.

            2. We’re not doing abstract euphemisms anymore, are we. Just letting it all hang out there. Waving at people.

              Coz I could be okay with that, is what I’m saying.

            3. Just roll up the window and turn up the radio.

            4. Had a neighbor that would hum. And make other strange sounds to himself. I eventually made him stop, which was an extremely awkward and traumatic experience for all involved. But worth it.

  11. There is no obesity crisis. There is a bloated government crisis. Let’s put the government on a starvation diet.

  12. Their argument: it was hot. Really. Since 2015 was warmer than 2014, tax supporters argue, that can help explain the increase in soda consumption in Mexico.

    Thus, climate change causes obesity.

    1. Yes, because an average temperature of 82.6 degrees is so much worse than an average temperature of 82.2 degrees.

  13. At least it’s what taxes are for.

  14. Looks like I picked the wrong week to put my shocked face in for routine maintenance…

  15. Its about revenue, absolutely.

    Its also about control. Let’s face it – somebody who takes in as much sugar from fruit juice as they would from sodas isn’t really going to be any healthier, but to these people, its the optics of soda that they object to, so they want to exert control to change those optics. Much like the attacks on vaping. Appearances and feelings matter more than freedom and facts.

    1. It’s insanity. 20 years ago even I could picture the oncoming supression of smoking – the writing was already on the wall. But fucking soda? How did we get to this place?

      1. PROGRESSives!

      2. First they came for the smokers…

      3. It’s insanity. 20 years ago even I could picture the oncoming supression of smoking – the writing was already on the wall. But fucking soda? How did we get to this place?

        By banning smoking.

    2. Coca-cola has been around for 100+ years. Kind of hard to blame them for an obesity trend that started 30 years ago.

      1. Except that until the 50’s the bottle size was 6.5 oz.

        1. I’m surprised the current bottles aren’t shrinking. Everything else is – not for “health” reasons but to fool the public into thinking that inflation doesn’t exist.

  16. It should also be noted that Sanger-Katz mentioned Mexico’s national soda tax in her article yesterday, crediting the tax with causing a “substantial” drop in the “consumption of sugary drinks” for the first year of its existence.

    But what did it do for obesity rates? That after all is the alleged goal.

    1. The ‘substantial’ drop in consumption was probably due to all the soda drinkers heading north.

  17. the measure also taxes sugar-free diet sodas (which are also frequently calorie-free), which “was an effort to spread the tax burden up the income scale.”

    What the fucking fuck?! Do these fuckwits honestly think that only rich people drink diet sodas? Do these dumb asses have any kind of data to back up that assertion, or just their feelz? Rhetorical question, I already know the answer.

    1. Oh, I certainly think the poor drink more regular soda. As a matter of casual empiricism, I have frequently lived in marginal urban neighborhoods and I would frequently visit bodegas or mini-markets where they would have a whole wall of refrigerated drinks and NO diet options…

      1. I was under the impression that diet/non diet followed gender lines more than economic or status. Although my roommate drinks diet coke, he says it’s because diet coke tastes better than regular when it’s in a mixed drink.

      2. I’m not poor and I never drink diet soda. That stuff makes you fat.

  18. I think ‘taxing’ as a means to ‘discourage’ a habit is pretty much a known dead-end policy. The jig is up and everyone knows it. It’s not about health but finding more revenues to pay for the free shit and pensions they promise.

  19. People are missing some relevant backstory here. Back in the day, the aptly named Mayor Michael Nutter tried to implement a soda tax but he lost a crucial councilman’s vote in the end. The current mayor, Jim Kenney, campaigned on a promise that the $0.03/oz soda tax was NOT about changing behavior but rather about raising revenue, specifically to fund universal Pre-K.

    Philly is ~50% Black, with a very poor population, ton of union control, and not surprisingly bad shape fiscally. Large swathes of voters, particularly poor African-AMericans vote as a bloc. (“Their churches bus ’em in, tell ’em how to vote, and give them lunch aftre the bus ride back,” is how it was explained to me.) The powerful representatives of the poor, minority constituencies didn’t like that this tax fell solely on soda which poor people tend to consume more of.

    So instead of a $0.03/oz tax on regular sodas and sugar-added bevarages, it’s a $0.015 tax on regular and diet sodas and beverages.

    This last part makes my head explode. Look, the city needs more revenue. A tax that’s quasi-voluntary is preferable. But it needs a rational basis.

    If you have to have taxes (and you do), and those will inevitably be distortionary, then for fuck’s sake at least make the distortion less idiotic.

    1. specifically to fund universal Pre-K

      Bull-fucking-shit. If Pre-K is so goddamn important they would have found the money for it decades ago.

      The leftist piece of crap that got the ball rolling on that talking-point ought to be taken out back and… well, you know.

      1. Yeah, it’s 3-card monte. There’s always a different justification depending on the crowd. Why do you hate toddlers? is the ultimate backstop.

        In a perverse way, I admire the chutzpah with which they implement their scam.

      2. Universal Pre-K = free daycare plus indoctrination. It’s all part of the 5 year plan.

        1. Well I can tell you Kindergarten was the worst five years of MY life.

    2. specifically to fund universal Pre-K.

      “”For the children””?? WELL WHY DIDNT YOU SAY SO?! COME ON IN!!

      I heard the gasoline tax was once about ‘roads’ as well.

      And cigarette taxes were once about ‘healthcare’.

      1. And cigarette taxes were once about ‘healthcare’.

        Hilarious. It’s all going into the pockets of public sector union members – surprise! – and those “Tobaacco-Free Kid” nazis are pissed it isn’t funding them instead. Suckers.

        1. since 2008, all of the tobacco settlement money has gone to the state Teachers Retirement System.

          BUT THIS TIME IT WILL BE DIFFERNT

  20. Soda tax supporters appear flummoxed, but undaunted. Their argument: it was hot. Really. Since 2015 was warmer than 2014, tax supporters argue, that can help explain the increase in soda consumption in Mexico.

    Global warming… Is there any ill it can’t cause???!?

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  22. Soda tax?

    As long as they don’t tax pop, no problem.

    Who bakes anymore anyway?

  23. so a $2.16 per 12 pack tax.

    sounds like an opportunity to open a store at the city limits.

  24. I’m not sure what the objection is here. Taxes should be about funding government, not nannying citizens, and the mayor’s position is consistent with that.

  25. All taxes should be about raising revenue. Any tax raised above the revenue-maximizing rate is not just evil, but vile and unjustified.

    Unfortunately, that’s where the incentives lie. Politicians and bureaucrats don’t have an incentive to maximize revenue, but rather an incentive to maximize their own political power.

  26. Something..something…narrowly tailored, something…something…not arbitrary…something.

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