by Jay A. McCalla
If indeed Robert Burns was correct in saying that “the best-laid schemes of mice and men, often go awry,”what, then, are the chances for a lazy, cut and paste, uninspired, unoriginal plan? How, many “slapdash,” last-minute endeavors do we celebrate, on an annual basis? Unless one is a Kardashian, we know poor preparation yields poor results.
Without getting into the merits of Jim Kenney’s soda tax, his amateurish approach and almost fatal lack of originality has to be addressed. A full year passed between Kenney’s entering the mayor’s race and taking the oath of office. He had staff, advisors, lobbyists, finance mavens and business leaders at his disposal. It is, therefore, bewildering and discouraging that Kenney’s Big Initiative is a grossly unpopular and distinctly dubious soda tax.
Pre-K is an important step towards constructing a viable school system and encouraging young people to learn at an earlier age. Very few responsible voices have been raised in opposition.
Of all the cities and towns in America, a soda tax exists in just one: Berkeley, Calif. It has been defeated in every other town where it’s been proposed. Our own City Council voted it down twice while Michael Nutter was mayor. Guess which at-large Councilperson – who never dreamt he’d be mayor – voted against it? Jim Kenney. He voted against it twice. He is not a credible advocate of his own proposal.
Why on earth did he tether something so important as Pre-K to something so specious as this soda tax? Why didn’t he use the last year to develop a new idea? Does he know what he’s doing, frankly?
Predictably, the soda tax faces a dismal future. Black City Council people seem responsive to the argument that the tax will be unfairly shouldered by the poor. Maria Quinones-Sanchez has a beverage bottler in her district. Republicans are reflexively opposed to all tax increases.(I learned to “count heads” as Chief of Staff to the late Council President Joseph Coleman.) This means there are already 12 Council members likely to vote against the tax, when 9 are sufficient to kill it.
With the heat turned up and few allies coming to his aid, Kenney has returned to his old, nasty ways. The soda tax had its 15 minutes of fame when Hillary and Bernie bandied it about for a bit. Bernie called it “regressive.” Normally, this would be a “no big deal” moment, but Kenney had other ideas. Reminding us why his staff discourages his personal Twitter use, he accused Sen Sanders of ignoring poor, minority children and siding with “greedy beverage corporations who target low income minority communities.”
The soda tax is failing and attacking Bernie won’t help.
Allow me to self-servingly – I was a senior manager – reminisce to the days of Ed Rendell’s mayoral campaign of 1991. Issues and policies were developed by a bona fide Rhodes Scholar and team of experts who made sure campaign positions would smartly translate into governing. That team came into government to insure the implementation of well-researched positions.
Kenney didn’t have the advantage of contemplating and planning his mayoral run. It was weirdly precipitated by the withdrawal from the race of lawyer Ken Trujillo, leaving staff and backers without a candidate. They settled on Kenney but had almost no time for high-level staff recruitment or policy development. The effects endure almost five months into his term where his major initiatives are to tax (soda) and borrow ($300 million from Wall Street). There are no initiatives that create economies, close unnecessary agencies or provide any evidence that the Kenney Team was prepared to govern.
In about five weeks, Council will likely reject this tax and leave Pre-K, community schools and pension payments as orphans. Is the mayor prepared with alternatives that can save these worthy objectives or will an abject intellectual paucity be revealed?
Fortunately for Kenney, Council will adjourn from June until September, providing him still more time to get his act together. He and the children of Philadelphia will have already lost a year of progress, but a clever relaunch seems in order.
Jim Kenney is a new mayor with no governing or management experience and will inevitably make mistakes. We should be slow to judge him by the impending debacle. Let’s see if he’ll FIGHT for education as promised. Let’s pray there is indeed a “clever relaunch” and a success we can all enjoy.