Philly 1, American Beverage Association 0

Today, Philadelphia became the first big city in the United States to enact a soda tax!

Philadelphia City Council, in a 13-4 vote, approved a 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened and diet beverages.

The tax is expected to raise about $91 million annually to be spent on expanding pre-kindergarten programs in the city; the creation of community schools; improvements to parks, recreation centers and libraries; and a tax-credit program for businesses that sell healthy beverages.

The idea was championed by Mayor Jim Kenney, who initially sought a 3-cent-per-ounce tax. There did not seem to be much support on Council for such a tax, but the reduced tax met the approval of the majority of the Council.

Fighting the tax were the American Beverage Association, restaurants, and convenience stores, which collectively spent millions of dollars on ads criticizing the proposal. These groups have promised a court challenge to the ruling, so the fight is not over yet.

I first wrote about this issue back in March, noting that I was, and still am a supporter of such taxes.

So I was thrilled when I heard about today’s vote by Philly City Council.

The Washington Post even had a story yesterday about how the Philly soda tax could become a model for other cities.

Instead of using an argument that would focus on using the tax as a way to discourage unhealthy drinking habits, Mayor Kenney promoted the tax as a way raise desperately needed funds for community schools, renovations to community centers and parks and, most notably, universal pre-school.

New York University professor Marion Nestle, who has authored popular books on food and soda politics, said the move by the Philadelphia City Council was a “huge deal,” and likely to be replicated in cities nationwide.

David Just, who studies nutrition and behavior economics at Cornell University, said that a soda tax that’s used to benefit the public good, rather than wag a finger at fizzy drink-lovers, is much more likely to be publicly accepted.

It’s just another sign that Philadelphia is the hottest city in the U.S. right now. Not only is it leading the way with the soda tax issue, Philadelphia is the place to visit:

  • it’s hosting the Democratic National Convention next month,
  • the editorial team at Fodor’s Travel named it one of  25 can’t miss spots around the world for 2016
  • it’s the only World Heritage city in the U.S.
  • Lonely Planet named it the best place to visit in the U.S. earlier this year
  • The New York Times deemed Philadelphia its top U.S. destination in 2015, and showed us some major love in its “36 Hours” series in May.

And let’s not forget that the city hosted Pope Francis last September, and held a parade last month for the Villanova Men’s basketball team.

So congratulations to Mayor Kenney and the Philadelphia City Council for having the courage to successfully see the soda tax through to its passage

And I hope that Philadelphia can continue its 15 minutes of fame. Can you say Super Bowl or Olympics?

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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