Philadelphia Mayor Puts His Foot in his Mouth – Again

The Curmudgeon has expressed his relatively low opinion of Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney in this space on a number of occasions – including well before Kenney became mayor or was even a candidate for mayor (for examples, see here, here, here, and here). Among other shortcomings, Kenney has a tendency to speak before he thinks – not a good quality in an elected official or anyone else, for that matter.

One of Kenney’s biggest accomplishments as mayor of Philadelphia so far has been getting his city council to pass a tax on sweetened beverages (only Democrats see raising taxes as an accomplishment in itself). When advocating adoption of the tax Kenney insisted that its proceeds would be used for programs in the city’s troubled and perennially underfunded public school system, but within 48 hours of the tax’s passage Kenney made it clear that the schools would have to share that money with other – and lesser – causes.

The Curmudgeon neither strongly supports not strongly opposes the soda tax. Kenney and his supporters made no pretext of using the money to compensate for the damage sweetened beverages do to people’s health, as was the case with the national tobacco settlement of some years back that intended – not always successfully – to spend the proceeds of the lawsuit’s settlement to fund smoking prevention and cessation programs and to help underwrite health care for low-income people whose health had been ruined by their cigarette habit. (In fact, at the very end, the Philadelphia city council sponsors of the tax reduced the tax rate on sweetened beverages and instead extended the tax to artificially sweetened beverages as well, which makes absolutely no sense.) For Kenney and his friends soda was just an easy, convenient target as a means through which to pay for things that none of them thought were important enough to merit the diversion of even a dime of city money from other purposes. In other words, the schools – as is always the case – were a very low priority, and without the soda money they would be out of luck. It was a gutless but effective way to raise the money, and the merits of the tax are a subject on which reasonable people might disagree.

So, too, is the question of whether the soda tax is even legal. In Pennsylvania, cities and counties aren’t permitted, under state law, to tax anything the state already taxes, and Pennsylvania already applies its sales tax to soda, which raises the question of the tax’s legality. The city claims the tax is on the soda companies and not on consumers – even though everyone knows consumers will be the ones actually paying the tax – and therefore not subject to the state-imposed limit on what can and cannot be taxed.

The Curmudgeon isn’t a lawyer and doesn’t pretend to have any real knowledge of the law, but it sounds to him like a dispute that might best be judged by judges – that is, in the courts, not in newspapers or on Twitter. It’s not unreasonable for the soda companies and retailers to sue to have the tax overturned and to seek their day in court.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Kenney’s response to the lawsuit:

While it is repugnant that the multi-billion-dollar soda industry would try to take away these educational and community programs from the hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians who need them, we were not surprised by their lawsuit given the ten million dollars they have already spent opposing the tax,” Kenney said in a statement. “I have no doubt we’ll be successful in defeating the lawsuit.”

What a complete and utter tool Kenney is.

Contrary to what Kenney said, it is not repugnant for a person or company that feels it has been wronged to seek legal recourse.

And the idea that the soda industry is “trying to take away these educational and community programs from the hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians who need them” is laughable, ludicrous, and downright ignorant – and an insult to anyone who heard or read those words. No one is trying to take away anything from anyone. For starters, those programs exist today only on paper: nothing is being taken away from anyone because that tax was only passed in June and the city will not even begin collecting it until January. Not a single one of those hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians who need those services is being deprived of them.

There’s nothing repugnant about an industry that thinks it is being subjected to an illegal tax asking a court to consider the legality of that tax.   What is repugnant is a mayor who says such a thing – whether he says it because he really believes it or because he wants to inspire people to support the tax. That makes him either stupid or evil, and neither is good news for the people who elected him to office.

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