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Soda tax opponents bring 18K petitions to Kenney’s office

Soda industry and restaurant-linked opponents of Philly’s soda tax are still fighting.
Soda tax opponents carted boxes filled with what they claimed were 18,000 petitions against the soda tax into City Hall on Monday. (Ax the Bev Tax Coalition)

The soda tax fight ain’t over yet.

A day in advance of a City Council hearing on the city’s 2018 budget, opponents of the city’s tax on sweetened drinks descended on City Hall carting boxes of paperwork, both letters and petitions, calling for an end to the tax.

“This is people showing our opinions of how bad this tax is,” said Nick DiCarlo, a sales manager for Canada Dry.

Before 10 a.m., members of the Ax the Bev Tax Coalition delivered reams of paperwork — which they claimed included “more than 18,000 letters and petitions” — to City Hall offices, saying they gathered these documents by getting signatures from the owners of local stores impacted by the tax and from shoppers at area grocery stores over the past few weeks.

The tax’s opponents argued that the tax has hurt sales at area grocery stores and claims area bottlers have cut more than 150 jobs due to the tax.

The tax, a 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages, went into effect at the beginning of 2017. According to numbers presented in a recent article on Billy Penn, the city has already collected about $19.1 million in the first three months of the tax.

Asked about this petition, Mayor Jim Kenney’s spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said the soda tax has created new jobs and the funding has been used to benefit children throughout the city, with free pre-K programs, community school efforts and new jobs for educators.

“While it's impossible to verify the authenticity of these signatures, we do know that thousands of Philadelphians are already benefitting from this tax,” she wrote in an email. “There are nearly 2,000 children in free, quality pre-K; over 250 new jobs in early education; and 4,500 public school students in community schools.”

Hitt also cited an ongoing court case as a reason the numbers aren’t higher. The American Beverage Association and the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association and other plaintiffs, including John’s Roast Pork, are suing to have the tax ruled illegal, claiming the soda tax is just a duplicate of the state’s sales tax.

The lawsuit was dismissed in a Philadelphia court last year, but an appeal is pending in the Commonwealth Court.  

“These numbers would be even greater if the soda industry wasn't continuing to pursue a lawsuit against the city even after the Court of Common Pleas dismissed their charges in entirety,” Hitt wrote.

Yet, when asked about the impact that this new tax may have made on Philadelphia, tax opponents said that the benefits of the tax do not outweigh the loss of jobs or the impact it has had on grocery stores.

“It doesn’t make any difference to me where it goes,” DiCarlo said of the revenue. “This whole thing has been a loss.”

Asked just what impact they hope the petitions might have on the City Council, Anthony Campisi, spokesperson for the Ax the Bev Tax Coalition, said he hopes legislators take them to heart when discussing the budget on Tuesday.

“We want to show them these today,” said Campisi, “then, tomorrow, with business owners, we can tell them about the real, negative impact.”