The activist group Action United interrupted a City Council school district budget hearing Wednesday by chanting, “Say no to big soda!” and pumping signs in the air.
After being escorted from City Council chambers by City Hall secuity, they marched to City Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez’s office to demand she “take the pledge” and side with Mayor Jim Kenney and his proposed three-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages.
Action United members said Wednesday they want Sanchez, who has come out against the soda tax, to join them in advocating for it. They claim the levy will benefit community schools, parks and recreation centers and universal pre-K, for which Kenney has earmarked the tax.
“Behind the simple fact that Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez has been accepting money (from soda companies), we wanted her to take the pledge because we know that she has accepted over $50,000 over the last five years,” said Tyrone Ferguson, a spokesman for Action United.
Asked why Action United singled out Sanchez, when other council members have also spoken out against the soda tax, including Councilman Al Taubenberger, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, and maybe more, Ferguson said Action United was “coming after the rest of them.”
“We just want (them) to take the pledge … because Mayor Kenney has offered to give $500 million dollars towards communities for pre-K, for community schools, for parks and rec centers, and for all that greenery.”
When the protesters reached her office, Sanchez offered them water and heard them out before addressing their concerns.
“For the last eight years, I have been a proponent of everything education, so I absolutely support pre-K work,” she said.
“But in my new role as chair of the committee of appropriations on Council, I have a responsibility to look at a $4 billion budget, and the only difference I have with the mayor is that I think the $50 million he needs to get started can be found within his budget.
“I’m not going to step away from the fact that I have a relationship with Coca-Cola. I have 435 jobs there. A lot of the folks that work there live in my community of Juniata and they feel just as passionate as you about my coming to their defense. No one disagrees with the priorities of the mayor. I think how we get there is what’s called a budget process. I will continue to work with the administration – as I have for the last eight years – to find a way.”