In a historic and welcome move this coming Thursday, lawmakers in Philadelphia are ready to finalize a tax on soda and other sugary beverages. Defeated twice before in the city, the tax proposed will charge 1.5 cents per ounce of a sugary beverage like diet soda, soda, iced tea, juice beverages with less than 50% juice, and sports drinks.
Third time’s the charm, the tax had been proposed and failed twice before
This isn’t the first time that Philadelphia tried to introduce a soda tax. The first two times this tax was proposed, it was by former Mayor Michael Nutter, and it was always overturned by the American Beverage Association, or the ABA, making strategic donations to thwart its passing. In 2011, the second time the tax was proposed, the ABA offset it by making a $10 million donation to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
However, the current proponent of the tax, Mayor Jim Kenney, learned from these two failed attempts and proposed the tax again six months into his term, but differently. Instead of appealing to the health of the populace, he advertised the tax as helping increase funding for education throughout the city.
All proceeds from the new beverage tax will go directly towards initiatives like bolstering flagging community resources, revitalizing education, and generally supporting the city’s increased services to the impoverished part of its populace.
Kenney also put the tax through city council instead of offering it as a referendum, which meant he only had to convince 9 out of 17 council members to vote positively for the tax for it to pass. Though the tax was slashed in another meeting from 3 cents an ounce to the present rate of 1.5 cents an ounce, it looks like it will pass despite the ABA’s efforts to throw millions of dollars at it to make it go away.
Some folks want the tax, others don’t
The supporters of the proposed tax include health groups, education groups and lobbies, business and law enforcement consortiums, and even labor unions. Some restaurants, the ABA, grocery stores, and the Teamsters Union that includes beverage truck drivers, are all against the tax. All in all, the anti-tax lobby has grown to 15,000 Philadelphians and 1,500 businesses.
However, despite the fervent opposition, the framing of the tax makes it difficult to deny—Philadelphia is a city that has a significant amount of its population facing poverty, and the tax could help alleviate that problem by providing access to education and community resources.
A model to be emulated
The only other city in the United States that has successfully passed a soda tax is Berkeley, California, and the tax stands at 1 cent per ounce.
By pushing the tax through the council rather than a referendum, and by framing the tax as a public goods provider instead of an admonishment, Kenney has provided a model that could be emulated across the country to help pass soda taxes.