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The Local Lens: Why Stop at Soda Tax?

  Philadelphia’s sugary drink tax is now in effect. But as residents are experiencing various levels of shock and dismay at the dig into their pocketbooks, City Hall may be planning a second assault, so get ready!

  Why stop at soda, after all? In time, we may find that this soda tax will do little or nothing to help fund the city’s Pre-K (expensive daycare) program. That’s because the tax money from all Coke, Pepsi and fruit juice sales (some markets have included hot sauces in the sugary drink tax) are being funneled to other sources, like the city’s fund balance. This time next year, with sugary drink consumption way down in the city because of the extra cost, His Honor and City Council may be looking at other possible tax sources.

  Don’t be surprised if the mayor announces that super sweet cereals should be taxed, along with processed meats, frozen French fries and microwave popcorn. Microwave popcorn, after all, contains diacetyl, perfluorooctanoic acid and plenty of trans fats — a far more unhealthy food than your average sugary drink.

  Imagine this:

  The mayor may explain that these new taxes will go toward an expanded Pre-K program that will include first and second grader “lifestyle costs.” The Post-K Lifestyle Enhancement Program (PLEP) will ensure that elementary school children are able to afford arts and cultural activities on the weekends, and even bus trips to Longwood Gardens.

  Once PLEP is underway, Councilwoman Helen Gym could call for an upgrade, The Middle School to Adulthood Program (MSAP), which will help fund extra learning college preparatory courses and weekend educational seminars for students who are not gifted, but who would like to be gifted. An additional special tax will then be levied on fast food chicken nuggets, which of course is another unhealthy food with more than its fair share of synthetic ingredients, including Red #40, diglycarides and carrageenan. Ms. Gym, in her enthusiasm for MSAP, may find it advisable to go way beyond taxing chicken nuggets, since that food is not universally loved. What is closer to being universally loved is candy, chocolate, jams and jellies containing high fructose corn syrup.

  The additional new tax imposed on these products would ensure that almost every jam in the supermarket would go way up in price, except for a very small selection of highly expensive organic jams, which are normally two or three times the price as the fructose-ridden jams. The net tax gain from MSAP would go a long way to fund labor intensive “I’m going to make you a genius” (the slogan of MSAP’s city wide campaign) workshops throughout the Philadelphia School District. Within a short amount of time the Philly School system would see rapid improvement in the grades of average students who wish to be gifted, and Ms. Gym will be awarded a ribbon in City Hall.

  But at the end of the day, even this tax will not be enough. A movement will surface that will raise the question: What about those mechanically inclined students who don’t wish to go to college, but who cannot find a trade school to polish their technical skills?

  The Tech School Star Launch (TSSL) will be proposed by Mayor Kenney at the beginning of his second term. TSSL will help mechanically inclined students to make the most out of their talents and it will also fund a city-wide public relations campaign to help eliminate the charges of some that technical school isn’t as good as a college education. Because TSSL would need substantial funding, Mayor Kenney, with the assistance of Mark Squilla and Ms. Gym, will work on another food tax levy. The focus this time will be processed meats, which can cause hypertension, colon cancer and diabetes — three big No-No’s no matter how you slice it. A hefty tax on processed meats will easily sail through by City Council, but the bill will not include expensive organic meats, like Boar’s Head products. When this tax, called The Big Meat Levy (BML), is proposed there will be a huge uproar from Mom and Pop food stores and mainstream, grocery chains. The outcry will be much like the initial protest when the sugary drink tax was first proposed. Like then as now, the protest won’t mean a thing: City Hall will get what it wants and in the end most processed meat (a variety of cheeses will be added at midnight on the day before the singing of the bill) will be taxed.

  In time, observers will begin to see diminishing lines in city supermarkets, but there will also be increased auto traffic from Philly into New Jersey, Delaware and other neighboring states that don’t have a Mayor Kenney or a Helen Gym in office. Optimists will try to placate depressed consumers by pointing to all the foods still left on the shelves that are not taxed, like broccoli, asparagus, brussels sprouts, lentils, lima beans, beets, succotash, eggplant and liver. Perhaps the biggest controversy will occur when City Hall decides that even with all these new taxes, the bounty seems to disappear too quickly. We still need money, the politicians will say, only this time we need it for the sanitation department and to help keep city pensions afloat. A tax on frozen chicken pot pies and frozen entrees, with their high amounts of sodium, trans fats, steroids, hormones and cholesterol, will be imposed as a final measure, with the mayor promising that this will be the last tax, “so help me God.”

  By this time, however, most Philadelphians will be in the habit of leaving the city to shop. City Line Avenue in Bala Cynwyd will be thick with clogged traffic as families drive back and forth into Montgomery County to hit the big shopping malls. Philly grocery stores will see profits slip as the lines in city markets become thinner and thinner. Many will also opt to leave the city altogether. Mayor Kenney, at the end of his second term, will balk at the mass exodus and try to impose an exit tax to penalize fleeing businesses and residents. But in the end this will not work.

  By this time, of course, Helen Gym will have finished her terms and found a new political opportunity in New York while ex-Mayor Kenney contemplates retirement in Palm Beach. A new candidate for mayor, another product of the city’s political machine, will promise four more years of continued growth and prosperity. They will be elected, after which other taxes will be imposed until at last the city will find itself on the brink of disaster. Many of the students who benefited from the slew of programs under Mayor Kenney will now be struggling parents trying to make ends meet. They will have no choice but to move to Pennsauken or Audubon, New Jersey, far away from the towering image of Billy Penn on top of City Hall.

  P.s.: Shortly after Denmark instituted a tax on sweet drinks in the 1930s, that country soon realized it was losing millions of dollars in illegal soft drink sales, yet they did nothing to repeal the law. Instead they imposed a 2.3 percent flat tax on foods with saturated fat. What seemed like a quick fix was abolished in 15 months when it was revealed that less than 7 percent of Danes had bothered to reduce their fat intake and that most Danes were traveling to Germany and Sweden to do their food shopping. In the end, Denmark decided to ditch both the soda tax and the fat tax, and the Danes have been happy ever since.

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