As always, the answer is in the numbers...
It's nowadays accepted that beverages with added sugar are bad. New York City a few years ago had it's own psychodrama on Big Gulps and Frappuccinos, when the unlikely nanny state of Michael Bloomberg tried to impose a tax on sugary drinks as a public health measure. It was eventually defeated in court, but the idea is still very popular by those who have no problem telling other people what to put into their mouths.
Certainly, soda probably not the best thing one could drink. And, soda and sugar infused fruit and energy drinks are certainly prevalent in lower income and minority neighborhoods mostly due to necessity: there are very few resources for healthier alternatives. That's why the phrase "food desert" was born. The days when poor neighborhoods were served by fresh produce and fruit carts pulled by a horse are nearly over.
Sugar-added drinks are also the focus of current budget talks in Philadelphia. To raise $95 million a year, its proposed to have an excise tax on the sugar content of beverages. The amount is $.03 an ounce. I believe that there are some problems that have heretofore been lightly considered. But we must keep in mind that the revenue is for an absolutely supportable set of ideas.
The new mayor of Philadelphia Jim Kenney has proposed programs that are frankly long overdue in the poorest large city in America: solid revenue streams for universal Pre-K programs, plus parks, job creation, and civic infrastructure. Certainly, people of goodwill must believe this is a good idea.
People of goodwill also know that Philadelphia is a city that suffers from decades-old inflicted and self-inflicted wounds: a tax structure that is regressive and flat. For years, city leaders have been trying to change that script, then Councilman and current Mayor Kenney included. Philadelphia is a very hard town in which to be poor.
Even conservative estimates of consumption indicate this excise tax will impact low income or no income neighborhoods badly. In some poverty-stricken areas, the soda tax would be the equivalent of half of one year's property tax.
We need a tax-progressive alternative.
You can link here to win op-ed piece I wrote that was published in today's Philadelphia daily news. I will also be following up in the next couple of days with what I believe are responsible and reliable revenue alternatives, and numbers to back and up. The instability of most taxes – income, sales, excise – are well known; Philadelphia must return to the rock bed solidity of the property tax based on land values.