Clear Strategy Needed To Battle Discriminatory Taxes; Unsolicited Gifts Will Backfire

June 2, 2010

We are living in challenging times, and the refreshment services industry has been specifically singled out for discriminatory taxes to help local and state governments meet budget shortfalls. Government officials have proposed taxes on soda and other refreshments, claiming to seek funds to battle obesity but in reality are looking for badly-needed revenue.

Opposing these proposals is tricky, since the industry is easily vilified as holding undue influence when it opposes discriminatory taxes.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the city of Philadelphia, where the mayor recently sought to saddle consumers with a soda tax.

The Philadelphia Inquirer opposed the soda tax for many of the same reasons that the industry did, but it made sure to criticize the industry for its lobbying. The newspaper didnt want its readers to think it doesnt share their disdain for big business using its influence to affect policy decisions.

One of the more troubling developments in this skirmish was the revelation that the beverage industry offered to shell out $10 million to support health and recreation programs.

The Inquirer reported Harold Honickman, owner of the Canada Dry Delaware Valley Bottling Co., said the industry is willing to donate $10 million to pay for city health and recreation programs. In a May 20 editorial, the paper noted, Instead of pay to play, its pay to go away. If Council raises real estate taxes while backing away from the soda tax, it will be showing its disregard for everyday Philadelphians. Bending over for deep-pocketed constituents is no way to run a city.

Three days later, after council shelved the soda tax and jacked up property taxes, Inquirer columnist Karen Heller commented that Maybe we could get more of his (Honickmans) ilk to show up Comcast's Brian Roberts or Urban Outfitters' Richard Hayne though, apparently, a tax is what it takes.

The danger here is that government entities will see taxes as a way to solicit industry contributions. Donations of this sort set bad precedent. They not only invite new tax proposals. They also portray the industry as well-funded at a time when profits are hurting for most industry members.

The beverage and refreshment services industries need to strategize their opposition to discriminatory taxes. There are good reasons against these taxes, and the industry should base its opposition on them.

The beverage and refreshment service industries have responded