As resources for services, programs, and critical needs including public education have declined, municipalities have been forced to think creatively about how to make up the gap without overburdening local taxpayers.
One creative solution put forth locally is the Philadelphia Beverage Tax (PBT), a levy on the distribution of artificially and sugar-sweetened beverages in order to expand quality pre-K to our children.
We know that early childhood education pays dividends, not just academically but in overall health and other metrics. Polls show pre-K expansion is overwhelmingly popular in Pennsylvania. Yet, investments by the commonwealth have failed to meet demand.
City Council's vote on the PBT was one of the most emotional we've ever seen. Yet, we made the difficult decision to approve this tax, knowing the PBT would yield significant investments for early childhood education.
House Bill 2241, which is scheduled for second consideration on Tuesday, would restrict any political subdivision from imposing a fee, surcharge, or tax on any food and beverage, or the delivery, acquisition, or distribution of any food and beverage, or food and beverage container. This bill not only threatens the ongoing expansion of pre-K, but funding for the School District of Philadelphia as well by way of the liquor-by-the-drink tax – which was affirmed with state-enabling legislation.
While it is true that the constitutionality of the PBT is currently being challenged in the courts, H.B. 2241 will do so much more than affect this one funding vehicle. This bill attacks the right of local communities trying to solve their own problems, potentially threatening a host of innovative local policy and budget solutions throughout the commonwealth.
>> READ MORE: Pa. Supreme Court hears arguments on Philly soda tax
Meanwhile, thousands of low-income children who are receiving the quality education and care they need to get a great start in life could see their futures threatened.
This preemption legislation cannot be justified on policy grounds, on economic grounds, or on moral grounds. I urge every Pennsylvanian who supports universal pre-K, as well as local solutions to address enormous challenges like generational poverty, to contact their representatives in the General Assembly and urge a "no" vote on H.B. 2241.
Darrell L. Clarke is president of Philadelphia City Council. Darrell.Clarke@phila.gov. City Council Majority Leader Bobby Henon, Majority Whip Blondell Reynolds Brown, and Deputy Majority Whip Bill Greenlee also contributed to this piece.