Op-ed: Kenney’s soda tax is economically destructive

“People are buying fewer beverages in the city limits, meaning production is down at local bottling plants.”

By Daniel H. Grace

Mayor Jim Kenney is living a fantasy.

His administration has repeatedly made the hollow argument that his regressive beverage tax isn’t hurting Philadelphia families. The mayor insists that anyone claiming that the tax is negatively impacting them is lying — from supermarket managers to my Teamsters’ members who drive beverage company trucks and work at the local bottling plants.

He dismisses numerous studies that conclusively prove that the 1.5 cents-per-ounce tax is causing beverage sales to plummet and families to flee to the suburbs to do their shopping.

He doesn’t believe St. Joseph’s University professor John Stanton, a world-renowned expert in food retail economics, who found that the tax is causing supermarkets to lose more than $300,000 a month in sales.

Kenney’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge reality is a slap in the face to his constituents who have lost their jobs because of this economically destructive tax. Rather than admit the damage his tax is causing, the mayor and his administration try to deflect criticism by hurling attacks at “Big Soda.”

These tactics aren’t distracting people from the damage the tax is inflicting on Philadelphia families. Our membership reflects Philadelphia’s diversity and provides an important pathway to the middle class for immigrants, women and people who lack a college degree. Yet, because of the beverage tax, 150 family-sustaining union jobs in Philadelphia have already been lost to date. These jobs paid competitive wages, provided full benefits and gave families the security of a pension upon retirement. People are buying fewer beverages in the city limits, meaning production is down at local bottling plants, forcing beverage companies to cut their routes and the number of times drivers, salespeople and merchandisers have to go out on runs.

And the job losses are not ours alone. My union brothers in the United Food and Commercial Workers have lost more than 200 positions in supermarkets throughout the city as sales have plummeted. A city with a poverty rate of more than 25 percent that has hemorrhaged these types of jobs for decades can’t afford to lose even one more blue-collar, family-sustaining job, much less hundreds.

While Kenney touts the alleged benefits of this tax on the national speaking circuit, ordinary Philadelphians are continuing to suffer economic pain. The mayor should have the decency to acknowledge the harm this tax is causing the very families and neighborhoods he claims to represent. ••

Daniel H. Grace is Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 830.