Philly Soda Tax: Controversial New Measure To Add Charges For Sugary, Diet Drinks

Philadelphia’s city council has tentatively approved its modified plan for a soda tax in the “City of Brotherly Love.”

Under this plan, Fox News reported, Philly will charge 1.5 cents per ounce on purchases of soda and other “sugary and diet drinks,” with the proceeds projected to help pay for “universal prekindergarten, community schools and park improvements.”

The amended soda, sugary, and diet drink tax is projected to pull in approximately $91 million in revenue over its first 12 months.

Philly Mayor Jim Kenney had initially proposed a similar three cent tax, albeit only on sodas and other sugary liquids.

“You don’t always get everything you ask for,” noted Kenney spokesperson Lauren Hitt. “That’s the meaning of compromise.”

Philly Mayor Jim Kenney

At the time of the proposal, critics said that Kenney’s plan for a Philly soda tax was too costly, in addition to unfairly targeting one specific demographic: the soda drinker. One vocal opponent, Philadelphia City Council president Darrell Clarke, went so far as to say that the soda tax would ultimately “leave some people with a sour taste in their mouth.”

Apparently nobody in Philly’s council questioned Clarke as to what he thinks soda tastes like.

“These are taxpayer dollars, and we want to make sure these dollars are being spent in an equitable manner,” continued Clarke, specifically noting that the onus was on Philly to “make sure young people have an opportunity to get an early education.”

In particular, Clarke’s concern with Philadelphia’s soda tax is that its proceeds could also be spent in other areas aside from recreation center building projects and schooling opportunities for those in need.

To date, Philly is just the second U.S. city to pass such a soda tax, following Berkeley, California. Other locales, such as New York City and San Francisco, were unable to successfully push a similar measure through.

Philly’s proposal, however, has been at the center of controversy on a nationwide scale, with both Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, in addition to former N.Y.C. mayor Michael Bloomberg, chiming in on their own beliefs as to the actual legality of a tax on sodas and sugary and diet drinks.

The soda industry itself has also invested millions block the Philly soda tax, with 2015 figures by the Center for Science in the Public Interest estimating that soda manufacturers have spent $106 million since 2009 to raise public awareness to attempt to block such measures.

A final vote by the Philadelphia city council is scheduled for Thursday, June 16, which is also the final day that the soda tax can be adopted for next year’s budget. Regardless of the outcome of this vote, which is, however, expected to pass, many have come to question whether the plan would do more damage by punishing those who actually drink soda and other sugary beverages — and the places that sell them — than actually help Philly’s finances.

The tide, however, seems poised to change. Per Upshot, which cited data collected from a recent Gallup poll, “Sales of full calorie soda in the United States have plummeted by more than 25 percent. Soda consumption, which rocketed from the 1960s through 1990s, is now experiencing a serious and sustained decline… as Americans say they are actively trying to avoid [the soda] that [has] been a mainstay of American culture.”

Upshot would also go on to note that Philly, in particular, has seen one of the largest declines in the purchase of soda in the United States, as bottled water is now apparently on the cusp of replacing soda and other sugary drinks as the top purchased beverage in two years.

Emma Stone

“The change is happening faster in Philadelphia than in the country as a whole,” said Upshot’s Margot Sanger-Katz. “Daily soda consumption among teenagers, a group closely tracked by federal researchers, dropped sharply — by 24 percent — from 2007 to 2013, compared with about 20 percent for the country.”

No doubt, residents of Philly who are less than excited about giving the new soda tax the “brotherly Love” welcome would only continue to accelerate this dropoff.

And that fear, on the part of Philadelphia’s city officials, will not taste very sweet going down.

[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]