clock menu more-arrow no yes

Philly's mayor wants to try a new approach to the soda tax.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Soda taxes have fizzled across the country, but the mayor of Philadelphia Jim Kenney is trying one out anyway.

But unlike other places where these taxes were billed as a way to consume fewer sugary drinks, the Upshot explains he's not going there:

He is not using the word obesity, or suggesting that people should drink less soda.

Instead, there's a whole other strategy at play -- one that perhaps matters even more to local officials:

Mr. Kenney is taking a different political tack. Instead of the usual eat-your-vegetables pitch of public health reformers, he is offering Philadelphians something delicious: a giant pot of money to fund popular city projects.

This is a big change. Soda taxes were imagined about a decade ago by public health officials who wanted to get Americans to drink less soda. Chronic illness like diabetes and obesity are linked to sugar and disproportionately affect low-income people, who also drink disproportionate amounts of soda.

But that message hasn't resonated. As the Upshot points out, so far, soda tax proposals have failed in New York state, Washington state, and San Francisco — places generally known to be open to progressive policy proposals. (Only Berkeley, California has succeeded.)

So Kenney is reimagining the tax. Maybe soda taxes don't sell when it's about drinking less of the stuff, but maybe they'll work when they're about raising money for new community programs that improve health.

This post was updated to clarify sourcing.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.