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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Beverage Lobby is Poised to Kill Vision Zero in Philadelphia

Vision Zero is a movement that started in Sweden in the 1990's.  The initiative, which seeks to eliminate traffic-related deaths, has been adopted by several American cities, including New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. These cities have vowed to overhaul infrastructure, surveillance systems, public policy, and introduce new legislation in order to protect pedestrians and bicyclists.

Philadelphia’s first Vision Zero legislation was signed into law on December 23, 2015 by Mayor Nutter.  The bill, championed by council members Cindy Bass and Mark Squilla, added an additional $5 fee onto vehicle registration with proceeds funding street safety improvements.  The bill won praise from Philadelphia’s bicycle community, including the Bicycle Coalition.  The idea of implementing a legitimate Vision Zero plan in Philadelphia was so popular, that Mayor Kenney turned it into a talking point during his campaign.

Now in office, many of Kenney’s pet projects, like universal prekindergarten and Vision Zero, appear to be contingent on the survival of his proposed soda tax.  That’s bad news for bicyclists.  Despite many trying, only one city in the entire country has managed to pass a soda tax- Berkeley, California. 

Kenney also seems to forget that Philadelphia has twice tried to pass soda taxes in order to balance its budget.  In 2011, Nutter proposed a soda tax to raise $60 million annually for schools, causing beverage lobbyists to overtake City Hall, eventually killing the idea.  Just last year, City Councilman Bobby Henon considered a tax on sugary beverages to fix the school district's financial woes.  Thanks to the beverage lobby, that idea never made it into the proposed education funding package.

Why should we expect anything different this time around?  Kenney is already under fire for his presentation of the soda tax, which he repeatedly pegged at 3 cents per ounce.  The Mayor omitted that fountain drinks would be taxed at 4.5 cents per ounce, and the soda tax sits atop the existing 8 percent sales tax.

Even if Kenney can win public support for his tax, the City will need to fight-off forthcoming lawsuits from the beverage industry.  Such lawsuits successfully overturned beverage restrictions implemented by New York City’s Board of Health in 2012.  

I hope Kenney has a backup plan for funding Vision Zero.

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