Union members, mom-and-pop store owners and the soft-drink kings came together in support Monday to protest the proposed 2-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks, which Mayor Nutter says can help close more than half of the city’s estimated $150 million deficit for the 2011 fiscal year.
“Mayor Nutter will not mess with our soda people in Philadelphia,” says Danny Grace, secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters Local Union 830. “We’re here to say in one loud and unified voice, ‘No!’ to Mayor Nutter.”
The protestors, organized by Save Philly Jobs Not Taxes Coalition, say the tax targets just one part of the sugar industry, and argue that such a tax contradicts state law.
But Mayor Nutter contends that it’s either this tax, or the closing of dozens of libraries, police departments and other public services in the city. Some members of City Council aren’t convinced.
"I like to buy things that are two-for-one,” says Councilman Brian O’Neill. “Well, this is the reverse of that! This is the one-for-two tax. You pay for two, and you get one.”
He also said that the tax could also extend to cheesesteaks and Tastykakes.
“Where’s the end to this? If you start with soda, you can’t pretty much stop anywhere else,” he says.
An army of soda trucks circled City Hall for more than a half-hour, honking in protest and supporting the laborers and employers – like Frank Maimone -- who say they would be affected by the tax.
He's the owner of Pizza Rustica, and says that Nutter is raising the cost of all products, not just soda.
“The price of pizza, of bread, of sandwiches, everything you buy. And what the mayor and Council may not understand is, it’s not going to affect your health. And you're going to pay."
He also added that he would be forced to lay off at least one worker if the tax goes into effect.
But Maimone is not the only employer who says he would have to let people go. Grace says that up to 2,000 workers in Local 830 could lose their jobs as a result of the tax.
Peggy Kaufman worked for Pepsi and Canada Dry for nearly 20 years, and stipulates that local businesses within the city will suffer. “A lot of people are going to go elsewhere to buy their soda, and not in the city, and now Philadelphians are going their jobs,” she says.
Labor Relations Director of Coca-Cola Lou Fonseca says that even during the recession, his company created new jobs. He says the mayor would rather watch the city crumble.
Now that that program, launched in 2010, is in full effect, beverage advocates seem to be running scared, putting together their own harsh ad campaign that’s either late to the federal health-reform party or early to the fight that Nutter and other local leaders may have in store later this year. And with the city budget still hurting, some believe the Nutter Administration may give the soda tax another stab.
So the tax would affect the poor, but not for very long. Once that “70 percent tax” brings each purchase into focus—Is this jug of syrupwater really necessary?—soda, one hopes, would return to its traditional role: an every-so-often treat.
When you consider all the arguments for and against the soda tax, it seems like the people trying to kill it are the best case against their own cause.
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