Philadelphia wants to make cash off people buying soda

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney Proposes City Soda Tax
The first skirmishes in a new soda tax battle occurred on Tuesday: Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, a Democratic, will seek a 3-cents per ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. Kenney, who took office in January, will put the tax in front of the city council on Thursday as part of his 2016 budget recommendations. If passed, the tariff would be three-times higher than the soda tax that residents of Berkeley, Calif., passed by ballot measure in 2014.


With 1.5 million people—far larger than both Berkeley and San Francisco, where a soda tax ballot measure was narrowly defeated in 2014—Philadelphia looks significantly different than recent soda-tax battlegrounds. And the city has been here before: Former Mayor Michael Nutter failed to pass a tariff on sugary beverages in 2011. But diet-focused public health measures have succeeded here too, which may bode well for the soda-tax proposal. As Civil Eats recently reported, an initiative to reduce the high sodium content of Chinese takeout undertaken by Get Healthy Philly—a public-private partnership launched by the city Department of Public Health—has been a notable success, cutting the amount of salt used at participating restaurants by a third.

Of course, a tax is a stick, not a carrot, and beverage companies are not the willing partners that the 200 restaurants involved in the initiative were, to say the very least. The industry is already pushing back against the proposal, with the American Beverage Association releasing a statement that, per the Wall Street Journal, said "the industry provides thousands of good-paying jobs in the city and that residents already have been burdened with other tax increases."

Thomas Farley, who headed up Mayor Michael Bloomberg's city health department, now hold the same position in Philadelphia. While Farley and Bloomberg's Big Gulp ban was ultimately blocked by the courts, there has been speculation that Mayor Kenney might pursue a soda tax since he appointed Farley.

While prior soda tax battles have focused squarely on public health issues, obesity doesn't appear to be Mayor Kenney's top-line concern: He needs more revenue to fund universal pre-kindergarten in the city, and the administration believes that the projected $400 million the special tax would raise over five years could go a long way toward making that campaign promise a reality. According to the Wall Street Journal, the mayor's office would flag $256 million for pre-k, $39 million to help fund the opening of 25 community schools, and additional revenue funneled in Philadelphia's public pension and city parks funds.

Here's more on the successful soda tax in Berkeley, California
Nation's First Soda Tax Passed In California City
Related stories on TakePart:
National Soda Tax Would Save Half a Million Kids From Obesity—and Save Money Too
There's More Proof That Soda Taxes Work
Patients Will Soon Pay More for Soda in British Hospitals, Thanks to a New Tax

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