The Washington Post reports that Philadelphia is considering a first-ever tax on sugary drinks for the city. The proposal calls for a charge of 1.5 cents per ounce of diet and regular soda, energy drinks, juice drinks with less than 50 percent juice, ice tea and other sugary beverages.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has promoted the tax as a way raise funds for community center renovations, parks, and schools, including universal pre-school. The city council is expected to vote on the measure this week.

Recently, the Citizen Cabinet examined taxing sugary drinks as part of our larger survey on the federal budget, and the findings were noteworthy.

Several options for such a tax were presented (including the expected change in revenue):

1. Do not tax sugary drinks.

2. Tax sugary drinks at ½ cents per ounce (6 cents for a typical 12oz can)    +$9 billion

3. 1 cent per ounce (12 cents for a typical 12oz can)                                      +$18 billion

4. 2 cents per ounce (24 cents for a typical 12oz can)                                    +$36 billion

A majority of 54% chose a tax of a half-cent per ounce or more. 26% chose the half-cent level, 13% the one-cent level and 15%, the 2-cent level. Forty-five percent chose not to impose a tax on sugary drinks.

Among Democrats, almost two-thirds (65%) recommended the tax, with 30% choosing the half-cent level and 35% going higher; 35% recommended no tax.

Among independents, half (50%) recommended a half-cent tax (48% were opposed).

Less than half of Republicans (44%) chose to adopt a tax on sugary drinks of at least a half-cent; a majority (55%) recommended against a tax.

The results indicate most citizens are ready to support a tax on sugary drinks, especially if benefits to the community are the result. In Philadelphia, we’ll have an early test case.

In the meantime, all are welcome to try the federal budget policymaking simulation. See how you would build your own budget. To get started, just click here.

As members of Congress come back from their Memorial Day break, some recent press stories might be making their return to Washington particularly unpleasant.

In an Associated Press/NORC poll a dismal 4 percent of Americans said they “have much faith” in Congress. It’s the kind of news that thrills late-night comedians, but in reality a statistic more shameful than funny.

Then came a new tell-all book by the anonymous “Congressman X”, confirming many people’s worst fears about what goes on in the halls of Congress.

X writes, “The average man on the street actually thinks he influences how I vote. Unless it’s a hot-button issue, his thoughts are generally meaningless. I’ll politely listen, but I follow the money.”


It should be noted, Congressman X is unhappy about the current state of money in politics – it’s why he wrote his book. In fact, it’s true for most members as well. They don’t like to be beholden to special interests; they do want to serve their constituents.

So, how can we help make Congress less dysfunctional and better serve the public good? While it may be easy for a member of Congress to ignore self-selected individuals who contact their representatives, it’s harder to ignore a large, representative sample of their constituents, especially ones that are informed on the issues.  

The ‘Citizen Cabinet’ provides exactly this kind of remedy.

Citizen Cabinets are scientifically selected, representative samples of voters in each state, along with a very large national sample, that go through in-depth surveys on key issues Congress is facing. Citizens are given a briefing on the issue, hear arguments both pro and con on the policy options being debated and then are asked to make their recommendations. The data is gathered, aggregated and analyzed and then presented to members of Congress in very detailed briefings.

Can Citizen Cabinet be effective? The results of the Citizen Cabinet surveys show that citizens are able to fix many of the problems that Congress – constrained by competing special interests – regularly fails to solve. Research confirms the American people are less polarized than Congress and more apt to find common ground. When given correct information, the public as a whole shows remarkable intelligence.

Americans believe, as did the Founders, that the common sense of the people can help break through the polarization and gridlock, find common ground, and help government better serve the common good, not the special interests.

In order to restore public confidence that Congress is listening, it is important for members to know what the people think, and effectively, give them a seat at the table. The voice of reason, coming straight from the People, could go a long way in making Washington work better.

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