DEPENDING on whom you talk with, Mayor Nutter's soda-tax proposal is:
a) A public-health initiative.
b) A political cash grab.
c) Nutter's bid for national PR.
And the truth? Somewhere in the middle, as City Council gathers today to give final approval to a city budget that includes a temporary 9.9 percent property-tax increase - and may revisit the soda-tax issue, which stalled last week.
During last week's session, Nutter could not wrangle the nine votes needed to move the soda-tax bill out of committee. With today looking as if it might be his last chance, the debate has grown fast and furious.
Nutter originally included a 2-cents-per-ounce soda tax - which would be levied as part of a retailer's business tax - in his budget plan, billing it as a way to raise revenue and improve public health. But the negotiations in recent weeks have centered on a tax of 1/2 cent or 3/4 cent per ounce. It wasn't clear last night if either had enough votes.
Lobbyists and Teamsters trying to kill the tax were making the rounds in City Hall yesterday, as some city union members and social-service groups were making calls on behalf of the measure.
"I find it all convoluted," said Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who said she did not expect to support the tax. "It's union against union.
We're expected to be Solomon. I don't think it's fair."
The city's director of supportive housing, Dainette Mintz, e-mailed homeless advocates last week, saying that without the soda tax they might not be able to pay contractors.
Members of one of the city's municipal unions, District Council 33 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, were lobbying some Council members on behalf of the tax. Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. said he'd received calls from DC 33 members. DC 33 president Pete Matthews did not return a call from the Daily News yesterday.
Nutter has argued that he needs a soda tax because the budget given preliminary approval by Council will not provide the city with enough of a cash cushion to get through the year. The tentative plan - which includes the two-year property-tax hike, along with taxes on some tobacco products and an increased commercial-trash fee - gives the city a $42 million surplus-fund balance.
"There are some significant consequences from not having those [soda] revenues, and it would affect core services," Nutter said, noting that jobs could be cut.
A soda tax of 1/2 cent per ounce would yield an estimated $19 million annually, although just $9 million during the coming budget year because it wouldn't kick in until January. At the 3/4-cent-per-ounce rate, the city would get an estimated $29 million annually, and $14 million in the first year.
But some Council members said Nutter has a balanced plan that is sufficient.
"It's a $42 million fund balance," said Councilman Darrell Clarke. "From our perspective, it's appropriate."
And some insiders wonder if Nutter wants the soda tax in part to raise his national profile on a hot public-health issue. Nutter scoffed at the suggestion.
"I think that is about the last thing on my mind," Nutter said. "We have a significant public- health crisis in overweight and obesity - and we have a serious financial crisis as well."