Why the soda tax is not the real regressive

Today’s guest blogger is George Matysik, executive director of the Philadelphia Parks Alliance.

In early March, Mayor Kenney rolled out one of the most ambitious, progressive budget proposals the City of Philadelphia has seen in decades, set to be voted on by City Council next month. As executive director of the Parks Alliance, I was overjoyed to see the Mayor’s commitment to provide long overdue capital upgrades to our city’s parks, libraries, and recreation centers through his Rebuild Philadelphia plan.  Not since FDR’s New Deal has our city seen this type of potential investment into our neighborhood—and particularly to the community infrastructure used by our children.

What’s more, the Mayor is combining Rebuild Philadelphia with a sweeping expansion of Pre-K, the funding of 25 community schools, modern retrofitting of City-owned facilities, and the reduction of pension debt—all paid for through a $0.03 per once tax on sugary drinks, commonly referred to as the soda tax. For children’s health, it’s a two-for-one special, providing access to neighborhood-based recreation facilities while reducing the consumption of sugary drinks—a leading driver of obesity.

There’s a common pejorative buzzword lingering around the soda tax: regressive. But to see the true definition of regressive, look no further than Philadelphia’s health and economic indicators for our city’s children, which would be positively impacted by the soda tax. The real regressive is one in three children in Philadelphia living in poverty. The real regressive is a childhood overweight and obesity rate of 46.9 percent, with some low-income communities close to 70 percent. The real regressive is a city that has underfunded community infrastructure, and quality pre-K, in the areas where it’s needed most.

High poverty, high obesity, and high neglect—a triumvirate of obstacles faces many children born in Philadelphia today.

But through Mayor Kenney’s budget proposal, our city has a cleared a potential pathway around these obstacles. First, by reducing sugary drink consumption, city residents will see a marked improvement in health outcomes. A Harvard University study published last week showed an annual reduction of 2,300 diabetes diagnoses and an average decline of 73 deaths. We’d likely see a particular drop in areas like North Central Philadelphia, where childhood overweight and obesity affects nearly seven of 10 children.

Second, to reinforce these health outcomes, the city would invest in the public spaces that encourage exercise—namely investing in Philadelphia’s parks and recreation facilities. For decades, Philadelphia’s public spaces have seen sporadic private investment, often creating greater disparity between communities with inherent wealth and those that lack the resources. By investing in the areas and facilities of greatest need, the city can begin to level the playing field by investing in playing fields.

Further, the city can begin to break the ongoing scourge of poverty by expanding the necessary programing directly in our communities. Our recreation centers and libraries can provide access to government wraparound services otherwise only available at City Hall. By bringing poverty relief program directly to low-income communities, we can increase accessibility and ensure more eligible families are receiving necessary resources.

Finally, this plan focuses on most just relieving poverty today—but ending it for tomorrow. Studies have shown that access to high quality pre-K can significantly reduce poverty in the long term, and give children the building blocks for more successful lives.

Soon, the vote will go before City Council—and we need them to hear from you. Attend City Council’s public testimony on May 4th at 5 p.m. at City Hall, sign the petition to support passing the soda tax, and contact your member of City Council today—and let them know what the real regressive is.


 

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