PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There I was at Wegman’s. On the Jersey side. Staring at soda.
That’s how my story begins. You kids listen to me because I don’t want you to end up where I am today. I had a good life. I was the afternoon drive host in a top ten market. Philly of all places. It was my dream job and I was living it baby. But then Philly passed that 1.5 cent per ounce sweetened beverage tax which basically hit every drink besides unflavored water and who the hell wants to drink low energy unflavored water?
It started out innocently enough. I’d bring in a six pack of Diet Pepsi here and there for a colleague. Then I started to get requests. A 12 pack of coke zero for this guy. A case of red bull for that guy. Next thing I know my trunk is loaded up with the good stuff. That sweet sweet fizz of freedom.
Was I nervous crossing into Philly? Not at first. Sure I might have gripped the steering wheel a little tighter coming over the Benny or the Betsy. As things expanded, we had to be a little more creative with our routes. 295 to the Delaware Memorial Bridge up through 95. You should have seen the look on the faces of the checkout clerk at Costco. Yeah, Wegman’s couldn’t support our needs anymore. We were buying in bulk baby so the sales tax free Costco in Delaware was our new home!
It’s funny looking back on it. A six pack leads to a full trunk which leads to a minivan. Ironically, I wouldn’t be caught dead using a minivan to transport my kids, but 18 cases of Mountain Dew? Load it up!
You see after the tax really took hold, no one, and I mean no one, wanted to buy beverages in the city of Philadelphia. The price of OJ and even almond milk skyrocketed. You had to pay the tax on the tax. That’s right. Sales tax on top of the beverage tax. So everyone was buying beverages outside the city limits. And while they were there they did all their grocery shopping. Good for the stores in Delco, Montco, or Jersey. Not so good for the Philly stores. Or the guys who worked there.
Mayor Kenney was out of his mind accusing the Teamsters of engaging in a giant conspiracy with big soda to sink this tax. He wouldn’t listen when he heard their guys were losing 50-70% of their income. From drivers, to the guys who stock the shelves, to the little grocery guy, the tax was killing them. Layoffs were everywhere. So I became a hero.
I gave all of the proceeds from the trunk soda operation back to the working guy. If people weren’t gonna buy in the city anyway, at least I would do my part to help. And then it went wrong. Someone dropped a dime.
I was driving the minivan, we called it Soda One, up Girard when Kenney’s soda squad, the Undrinkables, surrounded me. Guns drawn and that jerk Elliott Hess telling me I was violating the city of Philadelphia “Sweetened Beverage Importation Act of 2017.” Yeah, yeah, copper. You ain’t taking me alive I screamed.
Next thing I know I’m in soda jail. Yeah, they actually built soda jails. Look, Kenney wasn’t gonna let this thing fail. He kept raising the tax to offset the people who stopped buying the drinks. This was his baby, his legacy.
Soon other cities followed suit. That’s why when I get out of here I’m headed to Seattle. They went with 2 cents an ounce! Gonna need a bigger minivan.