Monday, January 26, 2015

Soda tax: Down the drain

Here is today's editorial from the Daily News. In the interim since it appeared, the soda tax has been taken off the table and Nutter has responded with a strong affirmative answer to our opening question. Watch this space for more developments.

Soda tax: Down the drain

Signe cartoon<br />Z1TOON17e<br />Budget
Signe cartoon Z1TOON17e Budget

Here is today's editorial from the Daily News. In the interim since it appeared, the soda tax has been taken off the table and Nutter has responded with a strong affirmative answer to our opening question. Watch this space for more developments. (The Signe cartoon, also from today, is tangentially related to this editorial, but very related to Earth to Philly.)

Soda tax a pain in the aspartame

Council grapples with budget options

DOES CITY COUNCIL really have to choose between running out of money or imposing a tax on sugary soda and drinks?

According to Mayor Nutter, that's the decision facing Council today. The mayor says the budget given preliminary approval by Council last week - which includes a 9.9 percent property-tax increase, a $300 fee for commercial trash collection, and a new tax on cigars and smokeless tobacco - doesn't generate enough revenue to fill a $150 million gap. Nutter warns that without an additional revenue, the city could run out of cash.

We're sensitive to those concerns, given that the current budget agreement would lower the city's fund balance to well below the 5 percent in reserves recommended by most municipal-finance advisers. And if the state budget is late again this year - meaning payments to the city for human services would also be delayed - you have the makings of a serious cash-flow problem.

Nutter says the solution is a tax on soda and sugary drinks. The tax, likely to be 1/2 cent or 3/4 cent per ounce, would raise between $9 million and $14 million for city government. Despite the very real concerns about running out of money, we're not convinced the new tax is the best way to tackle the problem.

Nutter already offered to reduce the overall level down from 2 cents per ounce, but his concession doesn't address the deep structural issues with the proposal. First of all, since it doesn't have the authority to impose a directed tax, the city would levy it as an excise tax on retailers who sell sugary drinks. Calculating the tax could be such a headache - and would require setting up new tracking systems - that many retailers are likely to simply spread the tax among all products, instead of just sugared drinks, thereby blunting the public-health impact of the proposal. (Vending-machine owners could either redesign their machines, or, more likely, hike the price across the board.)

The solution? Already, Councilman Frank DiCicco has proposed increasing the property-tax rate to 12 percent instead of 9.9 percent. This would generate enough revenue to keep the fund balance healthy without setting up an entirely new tax structure. Also, property taxes are deductible for federal tax returns, a benefit not available for people who pay the soda tax.

Of course, we'd be enthusiastic if the city could also find more ways to cut costs without devastating services.

But, if we're choosing between tax hikes, a property-tax increase is easier to swallow than the soda tax. *

About this blog
Earth to Philly is a weblog focusing on earth-conscious technology, trends and ideas, from a Daily News perspective. We look at the "green" aspects of your home, business, food, transportation, style, policy, gadgets and artwork. If you have a Philly-related story, Click here to let us know about it!

The experts at Philadelphia's Energy Coordinating Agency answer your energy questions in our regular feature Stay Warm, Stay Green. Send in your question or questions to

Look for Jenice Armstrong to supply tips on green living as well as occasional columns on the subject of Green. She also blogs at Hey Jen.

Becky Batcha stays tuned for the here-and-now practical side of conservation, alternative energy, organic foods, etc. - stuff you can do at home now. Plus odds and ends.

Laurie Conrad recycles from her ever-growing e-mailbag to pass along the latest travel deals, fashion statements, household strategies, gadgets, cool local events and other nuggets of interest to those who appreciate a clean, green world.

Vance Lehmkuhl looks at topics like eco-conscious eating, public transportation and fuel-efficient driving from his perspective as a vegetarian, a daily SEPTA bus rider and a hybrid driver, as well as noting the occasional wacky trend or product. Contact Vance with your 'green' news.

Ronnie Polaneczky sees the green movement through the eyes of her 12-year-old daughter, who calls her on every scrap of paper or glass bottle that Ronnie neglects to toss into the house recycling bins. Ronnie will blog about new or unexpected ways to go green. She also blogs at So, What Happened Was...

Sandra Shea and the DN editorial board opine on any green-related legislation or policy. And we'll pass along some of the opeds on the subject that people send us.

Jonathan Takiff will be blogging mainly about consumer electronics - those things that we love to use and that suck too much energy. He'll spotlight green-conscious gizmos made in a responsible fashion, both in terms of materials used and the energy it takes to run them.

Signe Wilkinson draws the comic strip Family Tree, which follows the Tree family as they try to live green in the face of nattering neighbors, plastic-wrapped consumer products, and the primal teenage urge to spend vast quantities of money on hair care products of dubious organic quality.

In addition to these updates from our newsroom bloggers, watch for an occasional feature, Dumpster Diver Dispatches, from Philadelphia's original "green" community of artists, the Dumpster Divers. You'll learn about creative ways to reuse and recycle while you reduce, and about the artists who are making little masterpieces from what others throw out.

  • Dispatch #1: Margaret Giancola's rugs from plastic bags
  • Dispatch #2: Dumpster Divers in City Hall (Art in City Hall series)
  • Dispatch #3: Wild wood, New Jersey
  • Dispatch #4: Dumpster Divers award winners announced
  • Dispatch #5: From sweaters to colorful cuddling
  • Dispatch #6: Green artists retake South Street Sunday
  • Dispatch #7: Isaiah Zagar: He's a Magic (Gardens) Man

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