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Can beverage industry buy its way out of soda tax?

Councilman Frank DiCicco in Council Thursday afternoon said the "soda industry" has offered to pay the city $10 million over two years if officials backed off on a proposal to tax sweetened beverages by the ounce.

Mayor Nutter originally proposed a steep, 2-cents-per-ounce tax on all sweetened beverages -- a hefty $1.28 on a 64-oz. bottle of Pepsi -- as a way to help close a $130 million gap in the proposed $3.9 billion budget. He is right now trying to convince Council members to swallow a tax of 1/2 or 3/4 or a cent per ounce as the mayor and Council try to nail down the 2010-2011 budget today.

Beverage companies have proposed channeling money through the Pew Charitable Trusts to fund programs, from education to recreation, that would promote health and combat obesity, said Edward J. Hazzouri, local lobbyist for the American Beverage Association. Nutter had hoped to raise $77 million annually through the 2-cent sweet drinks tax, with $20 million annually going to promote public health.

As of 1:53 p.m., Council was holding a public hearing on the revenue measures, with the intention of passing the bills out today to make a final vote possible next Thursday. But Council and Nutter have not yet agreed on what those bills will look like. Negotiations are expected to continue throughout the day and possibly into the night.

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