Philadelphia set to OK soda tax despite industry opposition


PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia was set to become the first major American city with a soda tax on Thursday despite a multimillion-dollar campaign by the beverage industry to block it.

The City Council was expected to give final approval to a 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on sugary and diet beverages.

Currently, only Berkeley, California, has 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 prekindergarten, 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.

Many communities where soda tax proposals have failed sought it as a way to discourage consumers from buying sugary beverages for health reasons.

The case could certainly be made for a healthier Philadelphia — more than 68 percent of adults and 41 percent of children in the city are overweight or obese. But Kenney focused on public interest over public health in making the argument to tax sugary drinks.

He told The Associated Press last week that Americans generally reject other people telling them what’s healthy for them, so his administration tried to stay away from that. He said any health benefits coming from the tax are just a bonus.

If approved, the tax would enter into the fiscal budget July 1, but it wouldn’t start getting collected until Jan. 1.

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 is expected to sue if the tax is approved.