Philadelphia becomes 1st major American city with soda tax

- Philadelphia has become the first major American city with a soda tax. Thursday afternoon, The City Council gave final approval to a 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on sugary and diet beverages.

That's despite a multimillion-dollar campaign by the beverage industry to block it.

Only Berkeley, California, had a similar law. Soda tax proposals have failed in more than 30 cities and states in recent years. Such plans are typically criticized as disproportionately affecting the poor, who are more likely to consume sugary drinks.
 
But Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney sold the council on the idea with a plan to spend most of the estimated $90 million in new tax revenues next year to pay for pre-kindergarten, community schools and recreation centers.
 
The tax is a hard-fought win for the city. The soda industry spent millions of dollars in advertising against the proposal, arguing that the tax would be costly to consumers. The plan also attracted national attention and dollars, with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Texas billionaires John and Laura Arnold -- advocates for less consumption of sugary drinks -- funding ads in support.
 
Now, the tax would enter into the fiscal budget July 1, but the tax wouldn't start getting collected until Jan. 1.
 
TV ads from both sides were running hours before the council vote. 
 
Groups of pre-K students clustered outside City Hall on Thursday doing geyser experiments with soda and Mentos, and they gathered in the hallway near chambers with headbands reading "Pre-K rocks!"
 
   The "No Philly Grocery Tax" group had a big display on the plaza with stacks of drinks and graphs showing how much consumers will pay if the tax passes.
 
The soda industry had been expected to sue if the tax was approved.
 
Statement from Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan: "Council's decisive passage of the soda tax today is another indication that they are, above all else, here to fight for the programs our children and communities so richly deserve.

"We cannot overstate the value of quality early childhood education. Children who have access to pre-k programs not only perform better in grades K-12, but are also more likely to attend college, and less likely to fall victim to the school-to-prison pipeline.

"PFT members have been at the forefront of talking with our elected officials and the public about the benefits of pre-K and community schools. In May and June, more than 200 info pickets were held at more than 100 schools city-wide. Educators used these sessions to provide information to the community, encourage parents to engage with elected officials, and emphasize the significance of the programs that our children deserve.

"The PFT has been in favor of Mayor Kenney's sugary drink proposal since its inception, and never doubted that the end result of discussion and debates within City Council would result in a measure that makes great progress towards funding essential programs.  

"Under the leadership of Council President Darrell Clarke, City Council has once again taken time to vet, debate, and come to consensus around legislation that will undoubtedly result in significant and tangible results for children and communities.

"The fact that the city is coalescing around educational initiatives promoted for years by the PFT is a testament to the work that our members do every day, both in and out of the classroom. "We look forward to engaging with Council and the Mayor to ensure the implementation of Pre-K and Community Schools is as effective as possible."

Statement from Philadelphians Against the Grocery Tax: “City Council has ignored the voices of the 58 percent of Philadelphians who oppose this regressive and discriminatory large tax on more than a thousand common grocery items. This tax is unconstitutional, and that's why we will take this fight to the courts to defend our broad-ranging coalition of more than 30,000 Philadelphians and 1,600 businesses and community organizations.

"Working families and small businesses simply cannot afford to pay this tax. And as we have seen in repeated 11th hour revelations from the Kenney Administration, the people of Philadelphia did not get the full story on where this money will go. After months of promoting Pre-K as the reason for the new tax, we learned at the last minute that less than half of the tax money will actually go toward funding pre-K. Despite the efforts of thousands of Philadelphia businesses and citizens to engage in a substantive debate on this proposal, the administration intentionally failed to provide Philadelphians the transparent process they deserved.”

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