Bloomberg May Give Even More to Support Philly Soda Tax

The former mayor of New York has thrown some of his wealth behind the Kenney administration's soda-tax proposal.
Jim Kenney (Photo | Jeff Fusco), Michael Bloomberg in a 2013 file photo. (Photo | Seth Wenig, AP)

Jim Kenney (Photo | Jeff Fusco), Michael Bloomberg in a 2013 file photo. (Photo | Seth Wenig, AP)

The Inquirer is reporting this morning that Michael Bloomberg, the super-wealthy media mogul and three-term mayor of New York City, has thrown an undisclosed amount of money behind an ad campaign in favor of a tax on sugary drinks in Philadelphia, which Mayor Jim Kenney is hoping will pay for a universal Pre-K program. Philadelphians for a Fair Future, the group that’s supporting the soda tax, released the ad on Tuesday.  

As mayor of New York, Bloomberg tried to ban the sale of sodas and other sweetened drinks larger than 16 ounces. The initiative was a unilateral move by the administration, and didn’t go through the City Council, key members of which opposed it. Ultimately, the ban was struck down by New York’s Supreme Court, but not before Bloomberg had become the poster boy for the Nanny State.

Bloomberg has steadily put money behind various philanthropic and political causes, including anti-obesity efforts, cancer research, tobacco cessation and gun control. Thomas Farley, the head of New York’s health department under Bloomberg, is now health commissioner in Philadelphia.

Kenney ran his mayoral campaign as a progressive, drawing comparisons to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who succeeded Bloomberg. Kenney also drew contrasts with Michael Nutter, his predecessor. But since taking office, he’s endorsed Hillary Clinton over the further-left Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders and proposed a soda tax that some liberals — including Sanders in these pages — have assailed as regressive.

Some Philly progressives even see Bloomberg’s support for the soda tax as evidence that it will hurt the poor more than it will help them.

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Philadelphians for a Fair Future hasn’t said how much money Bloomberg has pledged to its efforts. A Bloomberg advisor tells Philly Mag that it may not be a one-and-done donation from the former New York mayor.

“We haven’t determined an amount yet,” said Howard Wolfson. “We know that the soda industry will outspend us, but we will certainly try to level the playing field a little bit to make sure both sides of the argument are heard.”

The soda lobby is, naturally, critical of Bloomberg’s involvement.

“Bringing in a New Yorker to force his personal agenda on Philadelphia families is the latest desperate act from an administration that admits it is losing in its attempts to foist this regressive tax on our city,” wrote Anthony Campisi, a spokesman for the Philadelphians Against the Grocery Tax Coalition, which is funded by the American Beverage Association. “The people of New York rejected and resented Mayor Bloomberg’s overreaching policies when he was mayor, and now he’s trying to export them to Philadelphia families.”

The ad cost $825,000, and it will air for the next three weeks on broadcast networks, according to Kevin Feeley, a spokesman for Philadelphians for a Fair Future.

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