Scores of Philadelphia residents crowded a City Council budget meeting Tuesday night to voice their position on a proposed soda tax, WPVI-TV reports.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has proposed a 3-cents-per-ounce tax on soda and other sugary drinks. He expects it to raise $400 million over five years to fund universal pre-K and community schools, repair recreation centers and libraries, and purchase equipment for the city’s police and firefighters, according to WPVI-TV.
Battle lines were drawn. Newsworks.org reported that the American Beverage Association and the local Teamsters union joined up to express their opposition. They distributed flyers in the parking lot and asked drivers to sign a petition.
On the other side, members of Philadelphians for a Fair Future rallied its forces at the meeting, many holding signs and also distributing flyers at the hearing.
According to NPR, the mayor said revenue from his proposed tax is the only way to pay for pre-K and other projects: “What we’re looking to do is to take some of that profit, to put it back into the neighborhoods that have been their biggest customers, to improve the lives and opportunities for the people who live there.”
Opponents argue that working-class families cannot afford to pay the higher prices. For that reason, everyone expects soda consumption to decrease.
The local Teamsters, which represents bottling plant workers and delivery drivers, is worried about job losses. Fear of a drop in soda sales is also keeping beverage industry executives awake at night. According to NPR, the American Beverage Association spent more than $9 million—in a failed effort—to block passage of a soda tax in Berkeley, Calif.
In 2014, Berkeley became the first—and only—city to successfully pass a soda tax, which set off a war between health advocates and the beverage industry. Berkeley’s goal was to reduce obesity and other health problems when it passed the 1-cent-per-ounce tax. In the first month, Berkeley raised $116,000 of revenue from the tax.
In Philadelphia, supporters of the tax acknowledge that the higher prices will hurt financially strapped families. But they urge residents to consider the long-term benefits.
The Rev. Adan Mairena told NPR that about 80 percent of his congregation in North Philly lives below the poverty line. “If we pass this, it’s going to provide more opportunities in the long run, and it’s going to make us a better people, a better community,” he said.
The City Council plans to hold another budget hearing before it votes on the issue in June.