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October 11, 2017

After Chicago repeals soda tax, Philly union urges Mayor Kenney to do the same

Cook County Commissioners voted 15-2 to repeal sweetened beverage tax

Taxes Soda Tax
06302017_City_Hall_Soda_Illo PhillyVoice Illustration/Credits: Somrakjendee; trekandsho


The repeal of a sweetened beverage tax in the Chicago area on Wednesday renewed calls for Philadelphia to end its own, more expensive tax.

The Cook County Board of Commissioners voted, 15-2, to repeal a penny-per-ounce tax that went into effect on Aug. 2. The county, which includes Chicago and its suburbs, was the sixth U.S. municipality to tax sweetened drinks.

In Philadelphia, Daniel H. Grace, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 830, called on Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council to repeal the city's own sweetened beverage tax.

The Philadelphia Beverage Tax, which went into effect in January, levies a 1.5-cents-per-ounce tax on a variety of sweet drinks, including sodas, fruit drinks, energy drinks, flavored water and re-sweetened coffee and teas.

Grace said Cook County's repeal "should serve as a harsh wake-up call" to elected officials in Philadelphia.

"Cook County officials realized that its tax was doing much more harm than good and wisely corrected their mistake before more economic harm befell their citizens and businesses," Grace said in a statement. "It's not too late for Philadelphia's elected officials to follow suit and repeal our city's regressive, discriminatory and under-performing beverage tax."

Philadelphia became the first major American city to adopt a soda tax, which Kenney pushed as a funding mechanism for free expanded pre-kindergarten, a community schools initiative and public park improvements.

Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for Kenney, said Philly's tax is "very different" from the one in Cook County, both in structure and its funding goals.

"In Philadelphia, the beverage tax has raised $52 million in just eight months," Hitt said in an email. "It has already allowed us to send 2,000 kids to pre-k, create 250 living wage jobs in early education and support 11 community schools that have connected residents with 7,000 pounds food, 1,180 items of clothing and 120 summer job and career experiences for students.

"... With the $1 billion deficit the school district is facing and the state's own fiscal challenges, there is no other way to fund these programs."

Philadelphians for a Fair Future, a coalition of 81 organizations that support the soda tax, called the Cook County repeal "unfortunate."

"But it is also a stark reminder that public health benefits alone are not enough to enact and sustain a new sweetened beverage tax," the coalition said in a statement. "Today's events also underscore the fact that the beverage industry, with its virtually unlimited financial resources, will stop at nothing to halt or overturn beverage taxes that threaten its profits and its ability to market sugar-sweetened drinks to the communities it claims to care about."

The American Beverage Association has fought the Philly tax in court, arguing it is unconstitutional.

The Court of Common Pleas and Commonwealth Court have both upheld the legality of Philly's tax, prompting the American Beverage Association to appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.