Clout: Drink tax has a familiar taste

Posted: June 10, 2011

IN THE HOT SUMMER, a political threat rises against tasty drinks that help quench a city's thirst.

The Philadelphia School District, short on cash, plans to slash spending on early-childhood education, student transportation and special schools for troubled teens.

A tax is proposed on one type of popular beverage. It is not clear if nine of City Council's 17 members will back the measure.

Beverage-industry groups, fearing a loss of business, lobby fiercely against the measure and threaten a lawsuit. Anti-tax critics insist that the school district should look for more savings in its own budget.

Even with the new beverage tax, the district will still need more money to restore the programs it threatens to cut.

The opponents have seen this beverage-tax effort before and defeated it just a year earlier.

 Sounds much like Mayor Nutter's controversial attempt to revive a tax on "sugar-sweetened beverages" like soda, due to be debated by City Council today.

But the story above describes the effort 17 years ago to pass the "liquor-by-the-drink" tax that sent to the school district a 10 percent levy on alcoholic beverages served at bars and restaurants.

One big fizzy difference: John Street, then-Council president, came up with the liquor-by-the-drink tax idea and pushed it until it passed in 1994.

Nutter, then a rookie councilman, supported Street's effort.  

 Street, who retired from public life in 2008 after two terms as mayor, is now considering an independent run for office, either for mayor or City Council at large.

He is Nutter's chief critic, especially when it comes to the sugar-sweetened beverage tax.

Street calls taxes on cigarettes and alcohol "the ultimate sin taxes" on highly regulated products.

"They pretty much stand alone in our society," he said. "There is no rational comparison between soda and these items. Soda, on the other hand, is very different. It's a staple in the American culture. It's everywhere. I fear the moment we seriously start down that road, it could lead to a deterioration of individual rights."

Street, a self-described "health

nut," wondered if taxes on doughnuts or fast food or other products high in fat or sugar could be next.

The liquor-by-the-drink tax has pulled in more than a half- billion dollars for the school district from 1995 through this April. The city set a record last year, bringing in $42,945,875 from the tax, and appears ready to set another record this year.

Party of four for mayor?

Tom Knox, who finished second to Nutter in the 2007 Democratic primary for mayor and then briefly ran for governor last year, is still considering a run as an independent for mayor in the Nov. 8 general election.

Sound familiar? Knox toyed with the idea of an independent run but dropped it in February when he endorsed Nutter, who then put him in charge of a task force to examine if some city-owned property should be sold.

Knox yesterday claimed that that was the last time Nutter spoke with him about the task force. Nutter says they had another meeting.

Knox and Street changed their voter registrations from Democrat to independent on April 18, the deadline for anyone wishing to run in the general election as an independent.

Karen Brown, the GOP nominee, would have a hard time getting noticed in a four-way race with Nutter, Street and Knox.

Knox, who in February said that he had a poll showing that he could beat Nutter in the general election but would have to run a very negative campaign, now says Street could hit Nutter on his record while Knox stays above the fray.

"I don't want to take the negative road," Knox said. "I'm not going to do that. But John Street doesn't have any problem doing that. John's a bugger."

Street yesterday said he has not spoken with Knox about an independent run but is not surprised that he is still considering it.

Knox says he will make a decision by next week.

"Why don't we wait and see what my friend Tom Knox does next week," Nutter said yesterday, when asked about potential independent challengers.

Nutter: Trust me on poll

Street's strategy if he runs will be to hit Nutter hard in the African-American community. Nutter polls worse there than with white voters.

Nutter seems to be taking that threat seriously. He released an internal poll this week that touted his strength among black and white voters over Street's.

A pollster memo said Street "has an astounding 77 percent negative rating among white voters while Mayor Nutter is 20 percentage points MORE popular than former Mayor Street in the African-American community."

But Nutter's campaign refused to release the cross-tabs showing how the 503 likely general-election voters in the poll answered each question, broken down by their race. That means that Nutter won't provide proof of his claims about the poll's results.

The poll, which treated Brown like an afterthought and didn't mention Knox at all, said Nutter would win a three-way race with 67 percent of the vote while Brown would get 14 percent and Street 13 percent.

The poll also said Nutter would beat Brown, 74-17 percent, in a head-to-head match-up.

Quotable:

"If I was dropping out, I'd be down the Shore right now. I'm in this race to the end."

Karen Brown, the Democratic committeewoman-turned- GOP nominee for mayor, on the recurring post-primary rumor that she will drop out of the race.

Have tips or suggestions? Call Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973 or e-mail

brennac@phillynews.com.

Check out the Clout blog at:

www.phillyclout.com.


Have a news tip? Gossip? Suggestion? Call Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973 or Catherine Lucey at 215-854-4712. Or e-mail phillyclout@phillynews.com.

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