Despite a million-dollar campaign by the beverage industry, Philadelphia’s mayor and city council approved a measure last week levying a tax on diet and regular sodas.
If distributors pass the 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on to consumers, they can expect to see the price for a 12-ounce soda jump 18 cents, or $1.44 for a six-pack of 16-ounce bottles.
The move comes after Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney convinced council members that the tax would raise an estimated $90 million earmarked for pre-kindergarten, community schools and recreation centers. Other proceeds will boost the budget surplus, fund city employee benefits and underwrite council members' projects.
"Thanks to the tireless advocacy of educators, parents, rec center volunteers and so many others, Philadelphia made a historic investment in our neighborhoods and in our education system today," Kenney said.
While advocates of beverage taxes mention the health risks of sugary drink consumption -- including tooth decay -- Kenney avoided those claims, focusing instead on the fiscal bright side of the tax.
Although the measure passed by a 13-4 vote, it marked the third time Philadelphia lawmakers had considered the proposal. The bill's passage last week makes the city and Berkeley, California, the only two communities in the nation with similar per-ounce taxes. Several years ago, Chicago began assessing a 3 percent premium on retail sales of soft drinks, plus a surcharge on fountain beverages.
Opponents of the soda tax claim the measure is unpopular, noting its defeat in 30 other states.
The American Beverage Association released a statement claiming the tax "unfairly singles out beverages, including low and no-calorie choices" -- and is "regressive" and "discriminatory."
Warning that the new law could dampen beverage consumption and lead to job loss,
bottler Harold Honickman and Daniel Grace, president of the Teamsters Local
830, vowed to fight the tax in court.