Will fights over soda taxes in other states impact Philly?
Philadelphia remains at the center of a larger fight over taxes on soda.
Philadelphia is not the only place where the beverage industry continues to fight local officials and health advocacy groups over taxes on soda.
Last week, voters in Oregon and Washington state had a chance to weigh in. Washington voters approved a ballot measure that bans new taxes on food and beverages, while Oregon voters rejected a similar ban.
Despite the mixed results, the ballot questions demonstrate that the beverage industry has gone on the offensive to prevent cities from taxing their products. Philadelphia became the first major U.S. city to pass a tax on soda and other sweetened beverages in 2016 — and it's still often cited in fights over similar taxes elsewhere.
Six cities in addition to Philadelphia now tax soda, including Boulder, Colo.; San Francisco; and Seattle. Some recent efforts to oppose such taxes have been successful; Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago, passed and then repealed a tax last year, and California lawmakers passed a law this year that bans new taxes on soda while allowing existing levies to remain in place.
Yet Philadelphia's 1.5 cents-per-ounce levy — which funds pre-K, community schools, and improvements to parks, recreation centers, and libraries — has withstood repeal efforts. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the levy this summer, and a bill introduced in Harrisburg that would have eliminated Philadelphia's beverage tax did not gain enough traction to get to a vote.
Nonetheless, William Dermody, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association, said groups pushing to ban soda taxes use Philadelphia as an example, because the beverage and grocery industries have said that they laid off workers and cut back hours after it went into effect. Mayor Kenney's administration is also watching what happens elsewhere and keeping in touch with other cities that have passed similar taxes.
"We absolutely keep close tabs on beverage tax initiatives in other cities," said city spokesman Mike Dunn. "We do this in part to have a better understanding of the beverage industry's ceaseless and well-funded efforts to undermine such proposals and derail vital programs like pre-K and community schools."
Dunn said the city's Revenue Department also participates in monthly phone calls with other cities that have beverage taxes to discuss regulations and enforcement and attempt to keep similar standards.
Anthony Campisi, a spokesman for the Ax the Philly Bev Tax Coalition, said last week's success in Washington state is a sign of hope.
"We've had a lot of success nationally in either rolling back [soda] taxes or stopping the spread of taxes," he said. "So what happened this past Election Day is heartening for tax opponents here in Pennsylvania."
Campisi declined to comment on the next steps to fight the tax in Philadelphia, but said repeal efforts would continue.
One potential twist: the 2019 mayoral and City Council election. State Sen. Anthony H. Williams, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2015 and opposes the city's beverage tax, said last week that he is thinking about running again. The Kenney campaign responded by accusing Williams of "aligning himself with greedy soda CEOs."