Some black legislators and other opponents are claiming that a proposal to extend Philadelphia’s tax on soda products is racist.


“Poor” does not mean “black.”

Yes, in Philadelphia, many poor people are black.

But hereabouts? Nope.

Across Pennsylvania, according to the most recent U.S. Census data, the 2008 American Community Survey, nearly one and a half million Pennsylvanians, 12.1 percent, live in poverty (defined as an annual income of $22,050 or less for a family of four).

But just 11.3 percent of Pennsylvanians are black, and self-evidently, many black Pennsylvanians are not poor. The “racist” claim falters on the facts and the percentages.

The tax proposal has to do with diabetes and the need to pay for our $2 billion structural budget deficit and our $70 billion unfunded pension obligations.

The Philly soda tax is “duplicitous,” said Philly Democratic Sen. Tony Williams, because the people it taxes most are the people it purports to help most. At one point, discussing city demographics, Williams said, “We don’t tax lattes. Maybe we should.” His statement itself is racist, since it presumes that black people cannot drink lattes.

Jeff Brown, owner of several Philly ShopRites and chairman of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, said in a recent Philadelphia Inquirer column by John Baer, “It’s a racist tax. It falls disproportionately on people of color and assumes they can’t make wise decisions regarding their health.”

That attitude echoes the remarks in previous decades of those who profited from the sales of tobacco and liquor, whenever we discussed increasing taxes on those products.

Jonathan Kirch, of the American Heart Association, said the tax “will reduce diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other chronic illness.”

The Philly tax is 1.5 cents an ounce on sweetened and diet beverages (4,000 products, says the industry).

Pennsylvania needs more tax money. We need healthier citizens; just look around.

Nutritionally, plain water is healthier than soda products, especially if used to excess.

We tax liquor and tobacco, in large part because “sin taxes” should discourage unhealthy abuse of these products.

Now, one can argue that we ought not to tax soda, or impose any new taxes. Those are reasonable arguments. Maybe we should have a statewide soda tax; maybe not.

But playing the race card is reprehensible demagoguery — and is itself racist.

— Denny Bonavita

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