Philadelphia’s Soda Tax Proposal: Our Kids are Worth It

by Alexa Zizzi and Zuri Hoffman

It’s a Saturday afternoon on one of the hottest days of the summer. Full of energy and short attention spans, most Philadelphia kids are on their summer break from school and are eagerly searching for outdoor activities to pass the time. While many suburban kids have the luxury of going to their local recreation center, that is not the case for most urban Philadelphia kids.

Their community recreation centers, parks and libraries have fallen apart, with no repair in sight. Swing-sets are broken, bathrooms are unsanitary, basketball hoops have no nets, pools have no water and many of these spaces have been abandoned or neglected over time. Without useable recreation centers, many of these kids can turn to crime or find trouble rather than activities to occupy them.

For these reasons alone, the new Mayor of Philadelphia, Jim Kenney’s, first line of business is a proposed soda tax to ensure all Philadelphia children have renewed parks, recreation centers, libraries, pre-k as well as other initiatives.

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“Rally to Rebuild” held at Chew Recreation Center | Photo by Alexa Zizzi

For the past few months, together with various organizations, the Philadelphia Parks Alliance fought long and hard to have our voices heard on behalf of our community. We held pop-up events, rallies and marches all throughout the city, spent countless hours reaching out to city council, local community leaders, organizations and neighbors to let it be known how much our children need this opportunity.

Under mayor Kenney’s proposal, he plans for a 1.5-cents-per-ounce to generate an estimated $91 million over the next year to fund various initiatives including opening community schools, pension fund investments, funding parks, rec centers, libraries and universal pre-k, as well as green job plans.

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A pop-up rally held at City Hall | Photo by Larissa Keer

It turns out council listened and voted a huge YES on June 16 to pass Mayor Kenney’s soda tax. Not only is this budget proposed to rebuild and fund public spaces and opportunities for children, but it also matches an initiative to reduce common health risks including diabetes and obesity.

In a New York Times article published April 3, 2016, Margot Sanger-Katz said, “Soda tax proposals, fought by the soda industry as nanny-state excess, have failed in New York State, San Francisco — and Philadelphia, twice. So far, the only American city to pass a soda tax is Berkeley, Calif.”

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Philadelphia Parks Alliance Executive Director George Matysik and other advocates lead kids on a march through City Hall to talk to council members | Photo by Alexa Zizzi

According to Deana Gamble, the Communications Director of Mayor’s Office of Education, she believes the tax will be beneficial to Philadelphia because, “The revenue generated from the sugary drinks tax will go directly to expanding quality pre-K for 6,500 more children in Philadelphia.”

“It will also create 25 community schools that deliver wrap-around support services for students and families. In addition, this money will be used to make major improvements to our parks, recreation centers and libraries,” Gamble says. “These are initiatives that directly benefit our citizens, especially those in high-need areas.”

Gamble believes these two educational initiatives will also help to stabilize local schools.

“Quality pre-K equips our youngest students with the skills they need to arrive at Kindergarten ready to learn. The benefits of quality pre-K are long-lasting and have been tied to increases in high school graduation and lower special education needs,” she says.

“Community schools focus on removing learning barriers by meeting students’ social, emotional, and physical needs within the school building and they also engage the entire community in a robust culture of collaboration,” she adds.

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Pop-up rally at City Hall | Photo by Alexa Zizzi

Gamble says this tax is the only source of revenue that will generate the amount of funding required for these initiatives, as well as help our economy more than hurt it. Overall, any financial burdens of the proposed tax will fall on the distributors rather than the consumers.

“Big soda companies and distributors make high-profit margins due in large part to their targeted advertisements in low income neighborhoods,” she says. “The benefits of the educational programs this tax will provide to children and families far outweighs the cost.”

Although some council members at large have proposed other alternatives to the sugary beverage tax, so far none have come close to generating the approximate $400 million under Kenney’s bid. A similar tax was proposed by former Mayor Michael Nutter twice before, but it is clear that Kenney is taking a different approach, along with different initiatives.

Among all popular beliefs regarding this initiative, the most important to bear in mind is that this tax will ultimately result in a direct benefit to funding opportunities for children. Philadelphia’s, parks, rec centers, libraries and many other public spaces have been neglected for far too long.

Let’s generate this money and rebuild parts of the city that matter the most—our kids are worth it.

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Rally to Rebuild held at Chew Recreation Center | Photo by Alexa Zizzi

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