As a child, my favorite family outing was going to a baseball game. When I was very young, we had a choice of teams to see: the Philadelphia Athletics or the Philadelphia Phillies. Unfortunately, after the 1954 season (and a record of 51 – 103; the 17th losing season in 21 years), the A’s left for Kansas city, and —after 13 consecutive losing years— moved on to Oakland. The Phillies began in Philadelphia in 1883 and have been there ever since. They became “my” team.
My parents loved sports. Dad was a fine athlete. But when he was young, sports were not a well respected or well paying profession. He found employment elsewhere. Mom loved gym —and not much else in school. She left after ninth grade. But we all loved baseball and attended a few games every year.
It seemed that most games we attended featured someone throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. It was usually a politician: a Philadelphia Mayor or City Council figure, or maybe a United States Senator or Governor. Every announced dignitary received the same welcome from the crowd: boos. Very loud boos. Not booze, as in alcohol. But boos, as in a verbal thumbs down. A sign of certain and significant disapproval. I wondered why. Time would give me the answer.
As in other large cities (eg, NYC or Chicago), Philadelphia was controlled by the Democratic Party. Most elections were more formality than the result of an electoral process. Outcomes were a foregone conclusion and the process of governing was remarkably the same regardless of the times or issues. Money from various income sources was pooled and was spent on providing the required city services.
Obviously, this brings us to the political issue of present day Philadelphia: Soda. Soda is a sweet, bubbly, flavored beverage. It is very popular, although of limited nutritional value. Unlike water, which comes to everyone as a public utility, soda costs extra money. Ounce for ounce, it is expensive. But so are Oreos and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. And who can do without them? Man (and woman) shall not live by bread, and vegetables, alone. But where do soda and Philadelphia politics intersect for the common good?
Large cities in the United States often have a difficult time finding funds to provide their citizens with necessary services. Economic times are tough. Well paying jobs are less plentiful than in the past, or so it seems. Thus it is that our nation’s fifth largest city —Philadelphia— finds its public education system in jeopardy. Without sufficient funds, jobs are cut back, programs eliminated, children’s educational services are sacrificed. Attempts to secure additional funds from the State fail. At issue lately has been a lack of adequate Pre-school and Kindergarten classes. Lack of funding removes their existence. Which brings us back to: Soda.
The city’s Mayor has proposed a 3% sales tax on soda sold within city limits. Beverage distributors run TV ads protesting the unfairness of the tax. City government responds by emphasizing its targeted objective: the increased income will go solely to the education of children. What will happen? Will it be politics as usual: everybody wants a piece of the financial pie? Rumors begin. A public hearing is scheduled. During it, Philadelphians learn that the proposed 3% soda tax will provide more than twice the money necessary for children’s programs. A crowd voices its anger at being misled. City law-makers suggest a hasty compromise. The soda tax is cut to 1.5% per ounce. Another public meeting is scheduled at which a final decision will be reached.
That second, and final, meeting took place yesterday. The lower tax rate on soda was approved. Additional classes for children will be funded. 20% of the income from the tax will go to other projects of interest to city politicians. And I wonder: will baseball fans boo when another Philadelphia politician throws out a ceremonial first pitch? What’s your guess?