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For years Republicans have been telling us that a Marcellus Shale extraction tax would be a job-killer for the State, the thinking being that if a tax were imposed, the gas companies would take their business to a friendlier state such as – oh wait, there are no such places – and the jobs along with them. The fact is that our General Assembly actually rewards companies for moving their business elsewhere.

Consider the curious case of the John Middleton Company, a manufacturer of machine made cigars that employs 280 people. The Middleton Company is also the producer of Black & Mild cigarillos, a five pack of tiny cigars whose low cost and candied flavors belie the fact that they contain three times the amount of tobacco as comparable sized cigarettes.

The company, housed in Limerick, has been a Pennsylvania fixture since 1856. In 2007, John Middleton (yes, the principal owner of the Phillies) sold the company to the major tobacco company, Altria. In 2016, Altria announced that it would consolidate this Pennsylvania based business into its Virginia operations by 2018.

When a company threatens to leave an area, politicians generally offer a number of incentives to try to keep the business from moving. Instead, the Republican wings of both the State House and Senate, however, rewarded Altria by assuring that its biggest market in the State for Black and Mild’s – Philadelphia – would not prohibit the sale of these products within the City’s boundaries. Philadelphia was poised to pass such an ordinance this summer. The bill had 12 sponsors out of a City Council of 17.

The State legislature stymied this process, however, when it passed the budget at the end of June. An attachment to the budget prevents Philadelphia from implementing such legislation on tobacco. The Republican caucuses in both chambers of the legislature stated that the law brings “Philadelphia closer inline with the rest of the State.” If that were a valid argument for pre-empting this legislation, why would local governments exist at all?

If the pre-emption of Philadelphia’s legislative process is not good for the State’s economy, and there is no justification for keeping municipal laws uniform across Pennsylvania, the only reasonable conclusion that one can draw is that these Republican legislators are receiving some type of compensation from big tobacco for their fealty.

Philadelphia already has the highest adult smoking rate of all of the US major cities. For the Republican members of our State legislature, this is just one more example of how poverty in our City leads to big profits for the companies that contribute to their campaigns, regardless of the trail of deaths they leave along the way. It is also the reason why we campaign outside of our legislative districts, because if you live in or close to Philadelphia, every one of these districts, to us, is a district at-large.

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