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Philadelphia soda tax looks likely


 Soda taxes may sweep the nation, one city at a time.

Update 6.17.16: The Philadelphia City Council has approved the soda tax in a 13-4 vote. It begins January 1, 2017.

Although not quite the tax initially proposed by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, a compromise soda tax plan has been created and approved by the Philadelphia City Council. A final vote on the tax is expected to occur next week. If enacted, the tax would take effect January 1, 2017.

The mayor had sought a tax of 3 cents per ounce of sugar-added beverages. The one approved by council members is 1.5 cents per ounce but broader, applying to sugar-added and artificially sweetened drinks and “so-called diet soft drinks.” If ultimately enacted, it is expected to generate “approximately $91 million over the next year”— money that would fund prekindergarten, community schools, and parks and recreation centers. It would also provide a much-needed cushion to the city’s General Fund.

The decision to date has not made lightly or without considering public opinion. Several lively public hearings on the topic have been held at Philadelphia City Hall since May, and each time, people spoke passionately for and against the tax: it would cost jobs; it would help our kids make healthier choices.

This is not about health

To be clear, Mayor Kenney and the City Council are not wasting much breath on the health merits of their soda tax. They see it as a good source of revenue, which the city needs. If it can also reduce consumption, thereby improving public health, so much the better.

Future soda taxes?

As of now, only Berkeley, California has successfully enacted a soda tax. Other American cities have tried and failed in the face of a powerful opponent — the American Beverage Association (aka, Big Soda). However, many of these proposed taxes have needed voter approval, and Philadelphia’s proposed tax does not.

Elsewhere in the nation, soda tax proponents are hard at work to further their goals. In both San Francisco and Boulder, Colorado, they are attempting to place a tax on the November ballot. And a penny-per-ounce soda tax will be on the November ballot in Oakland, California.

Good or bad, they’re a hassle

Whether they’re for the greater good or an egregious overstepping of the taxman, new taxes on sugary beverages will create a compliance nightmare for the businesses that sell them. This the people of Vermont well know.

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Gail Cole
Avalara Author
Gail Cole
Gail Cole
Avalara Author Gail Cole
Gail began researching and writing about sales tax in 2012 and has been fascinated with it ever since. She has a penchant for uncovering unusual tax facts, and endeavors to make complex sales tax laws more digestible for both experts and laypeople.