Lesson to Learn from Philly Bait and Switch

Philadelphia may soon have the distinction of being one of two municipalities in the state with a beverage tax. As usual, the purported beneficiaries were "the children", and the Mayor of Philadelphia had a convenient fall guy to tax: Big Soda. By combining money for the kids with a bogeyman who causes obesity, Philadelphia City Council is set to pass a 1.5 cent per ounce tax. But, there’s a catch: the money isn’t going to the children, and it’s more than sugary drinks facing the tax.

The bait and switch was laid out in a recent editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

"Now, as Council has advanced a "compromise" bill that is likely to pass Thursday, an eleventh-hour change means that much of the revenue is going to a slew of the mayor’s distinctly non-child-related priorities. This includes $41 million over four years for the city’s general fund – from your pocket to the city’s coffers.

"Yes, all those children they trucked in for ‘read-ins’ at City Hall were unwittingly supporting our spiraling pension costs and opaque city contracts, which city Democrats are loath to address… Just as those children were trotted out for a completely different purpose, so too were the community-health ‘experts.’ We kept hearing about ‘ancillary health benefits,’ and the damage done by Big Soda. But then a last-minute U-turn expanded the tax to more people – while disincentivizing the healthy choice that was supposed to justify the cost. Diet soda is just another product to tax, which was probably part of the plan all along."

If you swap sugary drinks for natural gas or any other convenient target, the pattern looks surprisingly familiar. The government, at every level, is loath to address the actual cost drivers. Rather, elected officials find a target to tax, put together a coalition of beneficiaries to advocate for it, and then hand taxpayers the bill.

The Pennsylvania budget comes due in less than two weeks. Take a few minutes to contact your legislators and the governor, let them know they need to get their priorities straight.