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Squilla: Beverage industry gave a wink to a container tax

Publicly, the people fighting Mayor Kenney’s proposed tax on sugary drinks have been just as opposed to a competing proposal that would tax beverages by the container, not the ounce. But in private, it seems, some have a different take.

By Tricia L. Nadolny and Julia Terruso

But in private, it seems, some have a different take. Councilman Mark Squilla said beverage industry lobbyists in meetings with him have softened their stance on the container tax, saying if some kind of tax is inevitable, that's the one they would prefer.

"They say a container tax would be less impactful on the soda industry because it's more spread out," Squilla said.

The shift is another sign on a growing list that Council is poised to pass some kind of new tax to fund Kenney's initiatives. The mayor is seeking a 3-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages to fund an expansion of pre-kindergarten and a improvements to parks, recreation centers and libraries, among other things.

Squilla said anti-soda tax lobbyists have, first and foremost, asked that Council push off a decision until next year. That's also what bottler Harold Honickman said as he mingled with Council members ahead of last Thursday's weekly meeting. He said Kenney should take a one-year hiatus and "do this thing right."

"They would rather pass this off to next year but my answer to them was Council's going to come up with something," Squilla said. "So they would prefer a container tax over a sugary drinks tax."

Larry Miller, spokesman for the No Philly Grocery Tax Coalition, when asked about whether coalition members are privately favoring the container tax, said the coalition is opposed to both proposals.

"Both are regressive, discriminatory and target only one category of products," he said. "We remain opposed to these tax proposals. We came out against them from the beginning and the position has not changed."

Danny Grace of the Teamsters union, which delivers beverages, said he is also opposed to both and actually believes a container tax would be worse for his industry.

"We are not interested in a container tax, specifically because it broadens the horizon of what they can tax," he said.

Asked, if a tax is inevitable, which he would prefer, Grace took no stance.

"I certainly am not going to say something that hurts me with my members," he said. "My position has been all along that I want no tax."

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