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Soda tax falling flat, again

Mayor Nutter's second try in two years for a tax on sugary drinks is withering in City Council, where no more than seven of 17 Council members are prepared to help the Philadelphia School District with a soda tax.

"I think that feeling is the pulse of the issue," said Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, a leading proponent of raising up to $100 million for the schools through Nutter's 2-cents-per ounce tax on almost all sweetened beverages. The School District has already passed a budget that includes more than 3,400 layoffs and massive cuts based on a $629 million budget shortfall, but has asked Council to ease the pain by providing $100 million by whatever means necessary.

Even as Nutter stumped for the soda tax in a tour of schools Tuesday, a cluster of Council members were meeting Tuesday afternoon in President Anna C. Verna's office to determine what their options are without a soda tax.

Nutter's bill, to be considered in committee before Thursday's Council meeting, would raise $60 million in the first year and $80 million subsequent years. The only other proposals to raise the bulk of the funds are a 10 percent property tax hike to raise $95 million - following a 10 percent property tax hike last year - and a 3.5 percent property tax hike to generate  $37 million and combine with other sources for a reduced amount, $50 million, for the district.

Nutter, meanwhile, tried to keep the focus on the classroom as he visited five city schools on a "Vote for Students" tour.

"I think Thursday is a real judgment day, a real decision day for children," he said on a visit to Bridesburg Elementary. "It all comes down to: do you support children, or not?"

While the mayor toured schools, opponents of the soda tax rallied in Center City. Nutter said the beverage industry's concerns were unfounded. When the liquor by the drink tax passed in 1994, opponents said bars would go out of business and commerce would leave Philadelphia. It hasn't happened, he said.

"Soda's not the only liquid beverage you can drink," Nutter said. "No one's going to die of thirst in Philadelphia. This is a whole lot of hysteria generated by not one piece of factual information."

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