Before a backdrop of stockpiled sugary drinks packaged on a podium on City Hall’s north apron, protesters rallied against Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed soda tax on Wednesday.
Moments before, dozens of distribution trucks circled City Hall, horns blaring, to signal the rallying cry for the demonstration to begin.
At three cents per ounce, Kenney plans to use the tax – which would be leveled at distributors – to fund universal pre-K, improvements to park and recreation centers, community schools and reinvest in the city’s beleaguered pension system. He hopes to generate upwards of $400 million over five years, but not everyone is as optimistic about the proposal.
The measure requires approval by City Council.
Daniel Grace, treasurer for the Teamsters Local 830, joined several members of Philadelphia City Council and small business owners in support of the Philadelphians Against the Grocery Tax coalition’s cause.
“Let’s be clear on what the city is proposing – a tax of three cents an ounce on any beverage that contains sugar. Three cents per ounce – not per bottle,” Grace told the crowd.
“That includes not only your favorite sodas, but also fountain drinks, kids’ juice drinks, lemonade, apple ciders, mixers and mixes, flavored milk, iced tea, iced coffee, enhanced water, energy drinks, sport drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages that families enjoy everyday," he said. "The Kenney administration’s proposed sugary drink tax is the definition of repressive.”
Kenny Poon, who owns a good number of restaurants in Chinatown, including Bon Chon, Tango, Tea Do, Yamitsuki Ramen and more, said that he employs about 25 people in his company is trying to open up four more locations in the city, but may have to reconsider if the tax is passed.
“My partners say, ‘why Philly?’ If they really want to…we might as well move to a different city. I hope its not going to happen,” he said.
“I’m pretty sure the city can get some money not from the grocery tax.”
The Kenney administration responded to the outcry Wednesday by saying much of Philly supports the tax.
"It was a rally funded by the soda industry to try to protect their million-dollar profits. They paid a lot of people to come in from New Jersey to make it seem like this was driven by the people, but at the end of the day, most Philadelphians support the soda tax because its the fairest way to tax desperately needed educational programs," said Communications Director Lauren Hitt.
Taubenberger, who spent part of Tuesday in a Council hearing addressing the issue with Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, said people want their sugary drinks, and “if we pass this tax, you’re going to see the greatest bootleg operation since prohibition right in this town."
“No one is going to argue against kindergarten for children. The mayor is right. But the tax is not noble,” Taubenberger said.
“That tax has more holes in it in how to collect it and everything else since Swiss cheese! You’re putting a citywide burden on the backs of one industry and one customer base.”
The Philadelphians Against the Grocery Tax coalition claims more than 1,000 businesses have joined their coalition, along with nearly 13,000 citizens.