Philadelphia City Council passes soda tax out of committee

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia City Council passed an amended version out of committee of a soda tax proposal that will set a 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on sugary and diet drinks.

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke announced Wednesday that a majority of members had reached consensus on an alternative beverage tax increase that would raise approximately $91 million over the next year.

He said that members reached a consensus on the beverage tax following the Kenney Administration's admission that it intended to give some of the revenues to the City's General Fund.

“City Council prides itself on having knowledgeable and experienced technical staff, who informed members weeks ago that Mayor Kenney’s 3-cents-per-ounce proposal would raise more revenue than needed to fund his initiatives. Today, the Administration disclosed that it also intends to use the soda tax to shore up the General Fund,” Council President Clarke said. “It is the view of many members of Council that a General Fund problem and citywide initiatives should not be resolved by a proposal that affects mostly low-income people with few options.”

Also, the Committee of the Whole also advanced Council Majority Whip Blondell Reynolds Brown's bill offering tax credits to merchants that opt to sell healthy beverages in their stores.

“Thanks to City Council’s diligence and sharp questioning, we will soon send Mayor Kenney a budget plan that is ultimately more equitable, more sustainable, and smarter public health policy,” Councilwoman Reynolds Brown said. “That is exactly why the legislative process exists: To shape better informed policy that encapsulates the ideas and concerns of the people we represent.”

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers issued a press release applauding the City Council for their decision.

They wrote, "While the PFT has always supported Mayor Kenney's soda tax proposal, we realize that it has been the subject of a vigorous debate and the source of immense political pressure for Philadelphia's Councilmembers. But, the importance for increased funding for quality pre-k, community schools and improvements to the city's recreation centers cannot be debated.

"Council has, again, demonstrated their full commitment to funding programs for which they have long advocated.  With today's vote out of committee, and the projected $91 million in funding it secures, City Council has demonstrated that it will look past politics and maintain a laser-like focus on providing Philadelphia's children with much-needed programs and services.

"We look forward to the final passage of the soda tax, and the many ways it will benefit children and communities in Philadelphia."

Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney's initial proposal was for a 3-cent tax on sugary beverages only, but he lacked the votes to secure it. He wants the tax to pay for universal prekindergarten, community schools and park improvements.

Hundreds of people showed up Wednesday for a public hearing before the vote. Opponents shouted "No new tax!" Supporters countered with "Kids can't wait."

The soda industry has spent millions of dollars on a campaign to stop Philadelphia from becoming the first major U.S. city with a sugary-drinks tax.

Berkeley, California, is the only U.S. city to approve such a tax.

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