POLS ON THE STREET: Soda Tax May Drive Mayoral Race

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L-R, SPEAKER of the House Mike Turzai and his wife Dr. Lydia Turzai join Aqua America CEO Chris Franklin and his wife on their way up to the Hyatt at the Bellevue dinner following the Academy of Music gala concert with Steve Martin and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Photo by Bonnie Squires

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal on Philadelphia’s Sweetened Drinks Tax on an expedited basis. The decision they reach may shape the fate of Mayor Jim Kenney, whose brainchild it is, and with it the upcoming mayoral election.

All indications are MKenney’s controversial tax on sweetened beverages will be a pivotal issue in next year’s mayoral and councilmanic races. It’s the hottest dish on the political plate, because big economic numbers ride on it.

On one side stand education and Parks & Recreation advocates who want the investment from this tax. On the other side stand beverage and grocery industries who fear losing business and jobs.

In the middle: the overall labor movement. Jobs preserved for teamsters may not translate to jobs won for the building trades. It’s a touchy call, then.

Philadelphians for a Fair Future, the lobbying arm for the soda tax, hailed the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to fast-track the case. “The Court’s decision puts us one step closer to getting a resolution of this issue, which has enormous consequences for the City’s future. While we wait, the City remains unable to fully tackle decades of poverty and neglect that have devastated Philadelphia’s poorest citizens. The highly-acclaimed expanded pre-K program cannot be fully implemented, and the critically important Rebuild Initiative remains on hold, stalling the $500 million plan to revitalize parks, recreation centers, and libraries citywide,” PFF said in a statement.

Its members include Public Citizens for Children & Youth; Philadelphia Parks Alliance; Education Voters of Pennsylvania; Service Employees International Union; Center for Popular Democracy; the Alliance of Community Service Providers; the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children; Men United for a Better Philadelphia; Ceiba; Action United; Aspira; the Center for Science in the Public Interest; Lodge 5 of the FOP; Local 22, IAFF; District Councils 33 and 47, AFSCME; and Youth United for Change.

The beverage lobby is hitting back with a rack of analytical reports.

STATE REP. Jordan Harris led a Pathways to Pardons workshop at Dixon House in Pt. Breeze, aided by Lt. Gov. Mike Stack. BL-R, were pardoned citizen Danny Peters, Stack, Harris and pardoned citizen Thurman Berry. Photo by Wendell Douglas

A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health finds taxes on sweetened beverages may lead to an increase in purchases of alcoholic beverages. The same relationship seems to be holding true within Philadelphia, which imposed a 1.5 cent per ounce tax on sweetened beverages, including those with zero calories, in January 2017.

‘Looking to see what might happen when soft drinks and other sugary beverages are taxed, British researchers found something interesting: people seem to buy less soda and more alcohol,” the article notes. “So, what about Philadelphia, which added a tax to all sweetened drinks a little more than a year ago? The same association appears to be holding here, with residents buying less soda and more booze lately.”

Some stores now charge more for non-alcoholic beverages than they charge for the strong stuff. For example, Cicione Beverage in Philadelphia charges $16.20 for a 24-pack of 12-oz. Coca-Cola cans; the same amount of Yuengling Premium costs $15.88.

The article cites a story from the Philadelphia Business Journal that notes the first year of the beverage tax left the City more than $13 million short of its revenue goal. A recent report by Oxford Economics, in partnership with the American Beverage Association, found significant declines in the Philadelphia economy after the tax pushed consumers to shop outside of the city. Both beverage sales and non-beverage sales dropped within Philadelphia and increased outside of city limits.

Anthony Campisi, a spokesman for the Ax the Beverage Tax campaign, said the British study made sense to him, considering how shoppers might make substitutions at the cash register if prices change. “It seems to undercut public-health arguments,” he said. “I can’t imagine public-health advocates wanted alcohol consumption to increase.”

The Oxford study found beverage sales within Philadelphia fell by 24% and increased outside the city by 14%. It indicated an employment decline of 1,192 workers, or $80 million in lost GDP, as a result of the tax.

LARRY KRASNER, L, and his team from the DA’s Office attended a hearing convened by Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., R in City Hall on the need to consider the needs of victims of crime. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Krasner’s Immigrant Stance Draws Heat

DA Larry Krasner’s appointment of Caleb Arnold to a new position in the DA’s Office, to oversee the protection of immigrant rights, drew immediate heat from the Philadelphia Republican Party.

RCC Chairman Mike Meehan stated, “The layers of lawlessness here are unreal. You have a radical leftist activist, who has been previously arrested, hired to be sure that documented criminals aren’t further subjected to the federal laws governing their immigration status. It is enough to make your head spin. Krasner is setting a precedent for dangerous levels of relativism that further erodes law and order in a city subject to some of the highest crime rates in the country, in all categories.

“We see the consequences of this weak leadership, which at their worst could cost lives and at their least will reduce hard-working people’s property values.”

Arnold was arrested during a protest at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000.

S.E. GOP Incumbents Bail in Droves

As the 2018 electoral season opens, Republican legislators in Southeastern Pennsylvania are running for the exits.

In Philadelphia, doyen State Rep. John Taylor (R-Northeast), who is Philadelphia’s chief spokesman in Harrisburg, is hanging it up this year. In the suburbs, numerous Republican state legislators are calling it quits as well.

This is no mystery. They see a Democratic wave coming, and nobody wants to end their career by being tossed on the beach in a general election.

It’s mostly Trump, of course. State elections are influenced by national moods.

There are no good 2018 Pennsylvania polls on Trump’s popularity. But the latest one put him at under 50% popularity in the Keystone State. And he is poison to educated suburban voters, especially women. So many observers are predicting a swing against the GOP in suburban General Assembly elections this fall.

That could be good news for Democrats – but bad news for Southeastern Pennsylvania.

STATE REP CANDIDATE Elizabeth Fiedler celebrated the opening of her campaign office at 1208 Tasker Street, welcoming almost 100 supporters. She thanked the group for their commitment and for their contributions of time, money, and donated food and office supplies.

Regardless of any shift after the November election, Republicans will still control both houses of the General Assembly. If the Southeast wants anything done next year, it must rely on its remaining Republican legislators in Harrisburg. Who will be left there to advocate for us?

Fiedler Raises Campaign Funds

Candidate in South Philadelphia’s 184th Legislative District, journalist Elizabeth Fiedler reports raising $52,724 raised as of the end of 2017 – not bad for a state rep race.

Fiedler said this fundraising total is more than just a number: It is a strong message that working people can run strong campaigns for office, and win.

Casey Is Hammered on Pro-Life Meme

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) is not pro-life, even when he votes pro-life – according to his Republican foes.

The senator just supported a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It makes exceptions for cases of rape or incest or when continuing the pregnancy would put a woman’s life at risk.

It looks pro-life to most Americans. But it’s not expected to receive the 60 votes it needs to advance in the Senate, where Republicans hold just 51 seats. Casey should be a valuable recruit for them; yet they’re not treating him like an ally.

Casey, a self-described pro-life Democrat who is up for re-election this year, said his plan to vote in favor of the measure is consistent with his vote for a similar bill the Senate rejected in 2015.

Casey said he would rather have seen Senate Republicans take up other matters first, including funding for community health centers, which runs out on Feb. 8. Casey was in Philadelphia urging continued congressional funding for these clinics, which he said provide 800,000 Pennsylvanians with health care.

Rightwing critics continue to charge that Casey is not pro-life enough.

“While Sen. Casey announced that he will vote for the bill, his record proves that he is not a pro-life Democrat,” said Congressman Lou Barletta (R-Luzerne), a Republican aspirant in the Republican primary to challenge Casey in the fall. Casey had a 100% voting record with the pro-abortion group NARAL on its most recent scorecard and 0% voting record with National Right to Life last year, he charged.

Barletta criticizes Casey for legislative language that compromises and balances governmental policies on abortion. Barletta is a pro-life extremist who opposes moral standing or rights for pro-choice citizens. He is opposed to all services by Planned Parenthood, even those not connected to abortion, because Planned Parenthood also provides abortion services.

The Governor’s Race: Drugs and Money

Amid the 90-day Opioid Disaster Declaration, Gov. Tom Wolf urged the General Assembly to consider a set of bills aimed at furthering the declaration’s key initiatives.

COURTROOM 653 was overflowing with well-wishers when Marissa Brumbach, Esq. took the oath of office as a Municipal Court judge. Marissa’s parents join Congressman Bob Brady, R, as her son Carter Brumbach Hannan holds the Bible to administer the oath of office. Brady effusively praised Brumbach’s energetic career as a people’s lawyer and law clerk. Photo by Joe Stivala

Several pieces of legislation were passed recently, including Sen. Tom McGarrigle’s (R-Delaware) legislation allowing the Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs to regulate recovery houses that receive federal, state, or county dollars and serve individuals in recovery from substance use disorder.

Wolf is pushing for several new pieces of legislation.

SB 472, introduced by State Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), limits prescriptions for a controlled substance containing an opioid to seven days unless there is a medical emergency.

On SB 391, the administration is collaborating on a comprehensive amendment introduced by State Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), which would subject drug users to mandatory evaluation and treatment if the individual has a substance use disorder and is incapable or unwilling to accept voluntary treatment and the individual presents an imminent danger or imminent threat of danger to self or others within the past 30 days.

Another Costa bill, SB 391, amends the Drug & Alcohol Control Act to allow a person to be subject to mandatory evaluation and treatment if they have a substance-use disorder and is incapable or unwilling to accept voluntary treatment, and the individual has presented an imminent danger or threat to self or others within the past 30 days.

SB 978, introduced by State Sen. Lisa Baker (D-Luzerne), allows home health and hospice staff to dispose of unused prescription medication following a patient’s death.

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