Free Minds & Free Markets

Stossel: The Philly Soda Tax Scam

John Stossel fights with a Philadelphia City Councilman about the city's new soda tax.

Want a soda? It costs a lot more in Philadelphia, thanks to a new tax on artificially sweetened beverages. A 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola that once cost $2 now goes for $3.

Politicians and activists applauded when the bill was signed. They said the tax was needed to fund early childhood education. But John Stossel points out that the tax has unintended consequences. It harms local businesses.

"It's a bad tax," Melvin Robinson, owner of Bruno's Pizza, tells Stossel. His store is on the outer edge of Philadelphia, so his customers just cross the street to avoid paying the tax.

Philadelphia City Councilman William Greenlee defends the tax, saying they're "raising enough money to put 2,700 kids in Pre-K and to open 11 community schools."

The pizza parlor's customers didn't think their taxes were being well spent. "Preschool? I doubt that very much," one man tells Stossel.

"The mayor says he is helping people," Stossel replies.

"He ain't helping me," the customer answers. "He is tearing me up."

Another unintended consequence: Soda sales are down in Philadelphia, but liquor sales are up. When Stossel mentions that to Greenlee, he replies, "I don't know about that, 'cause we have a liquor tax, too!"

Philadelphians already pay 44 taxes, including the state income tax, the sales tax, and cigarette and alcohol taxes.

"You should be rolling in money," Stossel tells Councilman Greenlee.

"But there's a lot to do out there, John," he responds.

Yet a lot of the money goes to non-essential projects. The Office of Arts and Culture receives $4 million, to fund things like "Hip Hop Fundamentals."

"They're funding the arts," Stossel tells Melvin, the pizza store owner. "What arts? People trying to live!" Melvin replies.

Melvin has just one request for the politicians: "Stop stealing. That would be nice." Stossel doesn't think the politicians are stealing, but they do pay themselves three times Philadelphia's median wage to pass bad laws like the soda tax.

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  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Fist hardest hit.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Like I would ever set foot one in that place unless it was to help shovel its smoldering remains into the Delaware River.

  • guyjones||

    Hey, tell us what you REALLY think... ;)

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Wow, Stossel found a winner with Greenlee. Guy could even maintain eye contact

  • H. Farnham||

    I'm always a little bit amazed that progressive politicians agree to interviews with Stossel. They have to know they're going to get skewered. Of course, they probably also know that almost none of they're voters will likely ever willingly watch anything done by Stossel.

  • NoVaNick||

    I'm surprised Stossel isn't on the SPLC list by now. Isn't being pro-free market a hate crime?

  • Cyto||

    He was straight out of central casting! Just smugly grinning... almost as if to let you know that he knows exactly what a scam he's running and that he knows you can't do a thing about it.

    "There's a lot to do..." That's the perfect rejoinder. No matter what you come up with as an objection, they can always pull out some one thing that is important to people... hence the focus on preschool and schools. As if they don't already have a specific property tax exactly devoted to that issue.

  • DajjaI||

    Philadelphia breeds self righteous idiots. E.g. Jake Tapper and Netanyahu.

  • guyjones||

    How is Netanyahu allegedly "self-righteous," exactly?

  • Alcibiades||

    Fucking smug piece of human waste.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Fun episode, but I doubt the politician realzies or even cares how greedy and stupid he appears.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Philadelphia City Councilman William Greenlee defends the tax, saying they're "raising enough money to put 2,700 kids in Pre-K and to open 11 community schools."

    And when even the kids who had pre-k end up dumb, they'll start a pre-pre-k program and so on until they're eventually taking kids right out of the hospital. And when even that doesn't work it will be time for the subliminal teaching before the babies are decanted.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    They will be expected to attend pre-life while in the womb.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    That is obviously way too late.

    What is needed are sperm and egg education programs.

  • Longtobefree||

    But then they will have to finally resolve the fantasy of 'a bunch of cells with a heartbeat' vs a human being.

  • ||

    If several generations ago kids were required to enter public school at the age of six months, almost everyone would now think that school is necessary to learn to walk.

  • Paper Wasp||

    And when even the kids who had pre-k end up dumb

    Silly Sparky! Educating kids isn't the goal. Creating jobs for teachers/babysitters is.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I bet the Philly city councilman figured that since Stossel is a big name journalist, he must be a progressive in favor of the tax. He wants to do a puff piece on how great our idea was, and he wants me to be in it? Hell yeah! What could go wrong?


  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    There's a long history of mismanagement of public funds in Philadelphia. There's also a lot of cronyism that shouldn't be overlooked -- one of the largest cities in the country, and you STILL can't get Fios in some parts of the city. Why? Because Comcast owns this town, and the city council actively uses force to make sure it stays that way.

  • CE||

    Is it like the other municipal soda taxes, where the poor people are taxed for drinking pop, but the rich people who drink sweetened lattes are exempt because they're not deplorable?

  • CE||

    Not very progressive of them to tax the poor more (same with cigarette taxes).

  • NoVaNick||

    Progs especially love any tax they will never have to pay. Seattle tried to put a 10 cent per drink tax on lattes and espressos 15 years ago and it got voted down by something like 80% against.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    And they explicitly excluded coffee milkshakes during the recent sugary-drink bill they passed.

  • Paper Wasp||

    Yeah, but unfortunately, they made the damned $0.0175-per-ounce tax on soda and sweetened bevs stick this year. Except for sweetened bevs that elites like, of course, like Rachel's Ginger Beer. That's only $0.0075 per ounce. Because white hipsters drink it.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    Yes, it is like those.

    Not only is it a regressive tax from the standpoint of consumers, but it's also a tax that favors big chain stores over local businesses. A recent study conducted by a group at Harvard showed a 57 percent drop in sales volume, but NO CHANGE in overall sales in chain stores. So from the standpoint of businesses, the Walmarts and supermarkets are not being impacted, but locally owned ones are apparently being hit pretty hard.

  • NoVaNick||

    Yeah, the chain stores get volume discounts on soda and can afford to eat the tax, so there's not a huge price increase for the customer. Mom and pops don't have that option and some will undoubtedly be forced to close because of this and ever increasing cigarette taxes. But maybe that's part of the plan, so the progs can replace the corner stores with yoga studios and doggie bakeries.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    The part that he doesn't really cover is that they CREATED a thing (pre-K) for the soda tax to pay for. Once the tax was passed, they implemented the thing. In fact, the city's own website admits: "With the passage of the Philadelphia Beverage Tax in June 2016, Philadelphia City Council approved Mayor Kenney's five-year plan to create 6,500 locally-funded, quality pre-K seats in Philadelphia." In other words, the increase in spending was dependent on the increase in tax. This is inconsistent with Greenlee's claim that Philly has a lot of things to pay for and this was a necessary move to increase revenue.

    The other thing that needs to be pointed out is that they fell way short of projections (by about 25%). So the pre-K thing didn't get fully paid for. In order to make up the difference, Mayor Kenney proposed last week an increase in the city property tax and city wage tax. By the way, Philadelphia's city wage tax is about 4% right now, which is actually higher than the state income tax and one of the highest city wage taxes in the country.

    The whole thing was transparent from the beginning. The REAL goal was for Philadelphia taxpayers to pay for pre-K, and demonizing soda was merely the excuse to pass it. Once the pre-K program was in place, THEN it became a thing that you have to tap into the general revenue stream for.

    It's like Trump's wall. "Hey it won't cost you a penny! We'll get the money from X-Y-Z!" Ten years from now, it will be coming out of the general fund.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    It's like if your friend is down on his luck and asks to borrow $10,000, and once you loan it to him he goes out and buys a Harley.

  • SimonD||

    ... and then comes back to you and puts a pistol to your head to rob you 'so he can buy food for his family'. After this, he takes that money he robbed from you and buys ANOTHER Harley, then comes back to you with a firearm again....and so on, and so on, and so on.

  • Paper Wasp||

    In Seattle, a news segment last week admitted that of the proceeds from the soda tax enacted in January, "most of the money goes toward administrative costs."

    The tax is entirely to pay for a program that didn't exist before the tax. That we all somehow managed to get along without, all this time, just fine.

  • ||

    Yep exactly. Of course the partially sold it on the fact that "people shouldn't drink soda anyway because people are fat" ignoring the facts that it also covered diet drinks, and that if the goal was less soda, then less revenue would be the result.

    I haven't bought a soda in the city since it was enacted. But I still drink soda- I just import it in.

    BTW, not only is the city wage tax high, its paid IN ADDITION to the state income tax. Its crazy.

  • Carter Mitchell||

    William Greenlee is a perfect poster child for the line "Politicians and diapers should be changed often, and for the same reason."

    People of Philadelphia - it's your own fault if you keep electing these horse thieves.

    Do something. Voting is easy and costs you virtually nothing. Mr. Robinson, I'm talking to you - and your customers. I'm pretty sure there are a lot more of you than the idiots who want to f%@k you over.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    You shouldn't have to play the game of the person usurping your rights to get them to stop usurping your rights. Assuming 1) that Mr. Robinson didn't vote; and 2) that voting matters, is a critical mistake in your analysis.

  • Carter Mitchell||

    Well, our founding fathers solved the problem by taking up arms and throwing the British bastards out. Are you suggesting a similar solution? It certainly is the American way.

  • emkcams||

    The sugar tax was sold as improving the health of children by encouraging their parents not to buy soda; the politician quoted defends it on what the tax revenue will provide. Stossel should have pointed out that disconnect.

  • Cyto||

    He may have at some point, but that observation contradicts one of Stossel's pillars supporting his argument.

    He put up a graphic showing soda sales down 57%. That means it is working as intended - if 'as intended' means keeping people from drinking soda.

  • MichaelL||

    First, they came for the sugary drinks...Now, the sodas with sweeteners are under attack, too!? SMH But, we all could just get our bottled water from Flint, MI!

  • guyjones||

    The thing that is crazy with respect to this legislation (apart from its inherent craziness, LOL) is that the tax is levied against sodas that are sweetened with stevia extract, which is a zero-calorie, naturally-derived sweetener. One would think that the Leftist apparatchiks would exempt such sodas (such as the Zevia brand — I'm a big fan of those products), in the interest of encouraging shoppers to switch to healthier options. But, no -- the apparatchik impulse of self-perceived, "expert" and "benevolent" Leftists to attempt to control every aspect of human behavior is too powerful to resist.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    Their argument is that the diet sodas are not "organic". It's made of chemicals. And chemicals are bad. Duh.

    The real reason is that it's a cultural attack. They don't have a problem with it because they oppose the types of people who drink soda. They don't like poor people, and have historically enacted laws directly targeted at them. They just like to pretend to advocate for them, but as the soda tax demonstrates, they'll trade in progressive taxation for social engineering any fucking day of the week.

  • Cyto||

    It is a similar phenomenon to the vaping reaction. They railed against smoking as unhealthy, levied huge taxes to try to stop it... and eventually people found an alternative that is orders of magnitude safer. So are they happy? No! They moved to ban vaping too.

    I'd say it is psychologically identical to the puritanical right's reaction to all of their bugaboos... drugs, porn, whatever.. There seems to be a deep seated need for people to control the ways that other people enjoy themselves. It is as if taking that lollipop away from the baby is more important than having your own candy bar.

  • Paper Wasp||

    It's extremely classist, hypocritical, nannyist bullshit. These tax schemes are smug, passive-aggressive attacks by elites on anything not of their class.

    There are a shit-ton of food trucks around here. They serve grease and junk. Mostly tasty grease and junk, but essentially things like pulled pork carnitas on sweet, greasy buns with mayo, coleslaw, and sugary BBQ sauce, or goose-liver-and-lamb burgers oozing with brie and onion straws. Go to a place like Skillet, and you can pick up a little paper boat filled with grease and starch. But because it's made by white guys in lumberjack beards, and because it's not a chain, and they charge $15 for your paper boat full of grease, why, that's supporting healthy, local cuisine in the eyes of elites.

    Drive five miles south, and the locals are eating what they can afford: a McDonald's meal. But despite the fact that the McDonald's meal has equal or lesser caloric value, and is far more affordable, it's intolerable because (1) McDonald's is a chain, and (2) the elites miss out on an opportunity to educate the disgusting poors about their superior lifestyle.

  • MaleMatters||

    If this is a liberal-born tax, it's another example of how liberals hurt the poor. The poor are most likely to buy soda and are hurt the most by sales tax.

  • Paper Wasp||

    If you liked hearing from Councilman Greenlee, you'll love hearing about how the Seattle soda tax is allowing able-bodied men of 61 (apparently without dependents) to get subsidized organic, local vegetables from farmer's markets. And how "most of the money goes to administrative costs."

    Oh, and the proponents say the tax is "reducing sugar consumption" which they truly seem to believe is an actual government duty. Eh, no, the tax is just shifting where the sugary beverages are purchased.

    "Buy local, organic, healthy vegetables."
    "But, I don't want to buy local, organic, vegetables. I just want to buy this soda."
    "GORTDAMIT, you will buy local, organic, healthy vegetables, or WE WILL FORCE YOU TO BUY THEM...FOR EVERYBODY."

  • Fred G. Sanford||

    Bernie Sanders opposed a tax? And one on soda that progressives tend love, no less. The end must be near.

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