Supporters of regressive soda tax never learned 2016 election's lesson
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 The political talking heads said it couldn’t happen.

Yet for the first time since Bush senior was the Republican nominee, Pennsylvania went red. Donald Trump showed that a new brand of politics could appeal to working class Americans who have been ignored for too long.

While the Republican Party swept Pennsylvania on a message of jobs and growth, our Democrats are falling back on the failed politics of the past.

A case in point is Philly Mayor Jim Kenney’s hallmark policy: a regressive beverage tax that falls most heavily on the working poor.

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After opposing a beverage tax as a city councilman, Kenney made a 1.5 cents per ounce tax on sodas, diet sodas, juices and sports drinks the centerpiece of his first year in office. He claimed the city desperately needed additional money to expand pre-K programs and to pay for renovations to city rec centers, though he hadn’t thought of it during the decades he sat on City Council.

 

Kenney’s beverage tax represents callousness towards economic growth at its worst. As political commentator Frank Luntz noted, “If you’re looking to understand why 2016 voters chose Republicans to run the government, look at this 50 percent tax on soda in Democrat-run Philadelphia.” Philadelphia Republicans — including all three who sit on our City Council — opposed the tax from the get-go, noting (along with Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersTrump claims a 'spy' on his campaign tried to help 'Crooked Hillary' win Rising star Abrams advances in Georgia governor race Webb: Drain the swamp MORE) that the tax would obviously fall hardest on the poorest people who could least afford to leave city limits to purchase their normal grocery items.

While President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Zucker: Trump 'secretly watching CNN' all day and night GOP candidate behind 'Deportation Bus' loses in gubernatorial bid Penn to Hewitt: Mueller probe born out of ‘hysteria’ MORE is working with businesses to create jobs here at home, Kenney is raising taxes on small businesses, especially neighborhood corner stores, and working families who don’t have the time or money travel to the suburbs to shop.

Just before City Council approved Kenney’s tax in June, it was revealed that tens of millions of dollars in revenue were in fact being diverted to pay for politicians’ pet projects, including $41 million for the city’s General Fund. He awarded the contract to run the city’s pre-K program to a politically connected non-profit run by allies who endorsed him in the primary. And he gave a sweetheart no-bid contract to defend the tax (at almost double the normal rate) from a legal challenge brought by grocery stores, restaurants and beverage bottlers.

Most insulting, though, has been his response to the scores of layoffs from PepsiCo and other manufacturers across the city: Rather than acknowledging the effects of his tax, he’s smeared businesses for price gouging. At the same time as hundreds of layoffs are announced due to the burden of the tax, Kenney’s team swaggered to the press about “creating jobs” in pre-K whose salaries average $14.72 hourly — hardly the same as the unionized jobs with benefits that have been eliminated.

“PepsiCo has sunk to a kind of new low,” the Mayor blustered in response to the elimination of hundreds of jobs, because the manufacturers have — gasp! — responded to the staggering costs he imposed on them for doing business in Philadelphia.

Even less decorous has been Kenney’s response to Jeff Brown, a social entrepreneur who has brought fresh foods into food deserts across Philadelphia and who was once lauded directly by President Obama. Brown has seen sales erode by 15 percent as consumers flee across the city lines. He’s had to cut thousands of hours for his hard-pressed employees — the equivalent of about 300 jobs in areas where we need them most.

For the sin of speaking out against the tax and its effects, Brown been on the receiving end a vindictive and highly personal smear campaign from the Mayor’s team that would fit better in Chavez’s Venezuela than in a democracy that values free enterprise.

And now, he’s trying to take his tax on the road.

His proposal received national attention from Nanny State proponents, like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who poured millions of dollars into a lobbying effort designed to ram the tax through City Council.

And rather than focusing on the smooth rollout of his initiatives, Kenney has spent more time branding himself to appeal to the elite fundraisers who control the Democratic agenda and scorn average workers. He’s touted his regressive tax as the prescription for cash-strapped cities looking for a convenient financial scapegoat.

Meanwhile, as the poorest Philadelphians hand over an increasing share of their incomes to the tax-man, and as Philly business prepare to lay off more workers, we have no word on outcomes or oversight for Kenney’s programming or his plan to fix our terrible public schools once our children hit kindergarten.

If President Trump’s victory in Pennsylvania taught us anything, it’s that working people have had enough of politicians who ignore jobs and growth in pursuit of an elite progressive agenda. Republicans are paying attention. Democrats, meanwhile, pass regressive taxes that hurt working people and businesses alike, and their only response to our concerns is: drink up.

Joseph J. DeFelice, Esq., is chairman of the Philadelphia Republican Party.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.