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Beverage Association Spends Big Money Fighting Drink Tax In Philly

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Craig Boudreau Vice Reporter

The American Beverage Association (ABA) spent more than $10 million in an effort to stop a tax on sweetened drinks in Philadelphia, more than four times what advocates for the tax spent.

The ABA put $10.6 million into efforts trying to stop Philadelphia Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney’s three cent-per-ounce tax on sweetened drinks, while supporters of the tax raised roughly $2.5 million, according to Philly.com. Most of the opposition backing came from the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, PepsiCo and the Coca-Cola Co.

Mayor Kenney’s three cent-per-ounce tax was ultimately reduced to 1.5 cents-per-ounce and passed through the Philadelphia City Council by a 13-4 margin. This despite the fact that 58 percent of Philadelphia residents opposed the tax.

“Armed with the facts, their opposition to the tax rose significantly,” Anthony Campisi of the No Philly Grocery Tax Coalition said, noting the public’s disapproval.

“This is a very regressive tax,”Anthony Campisi, spokesman for the Philadelphians Against the Grocery Tax coalition, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “While middle class and wealthy people will be able to avoid this tax by driving to the suburbs for their shopping, poorer and working families won’t have that option and will end up footing the bill.”

Campisi goes on to say that the tax “will also have a disproportionate impact on small businesses, like family-owned corner stores and bodegas, which operate on very thin margins and rely on beverage sales to make ends meet.”

He also thinks the tax is violates the Pennsylvania Constitution, and says that the coalition has hired a law firm to “explore” ways of stopping the tax from going into effect.

The city claims the tax will generate an additional $91 million, which will go towards “pre-kindergarten programs; creating community schools; improving parks, recreation centers and libraries; and funding other city programs and employee benefits.”

However, Campisi notes that while the tax was initially pitched as a means to help expand pre-kindergarten options for families, the mayor ended up expanding that coverage to things not presented to the residents of Philadelphia.

“At the 11th hour we discovered that tens of millions of dollars from the tax are being diverted to do everything from bolstering the city’s surplus to funding museums,” Campisi said. “Philadelphians didn’t get the transparent budget process they deserved so they could understand how the city is planning on spending their hard-earned money.”

Philadelphia is the first major U.S. city to impose such a tax. Shanin Specter, attorney for the ABA, said the tax is “discriminatory and unpopular” and notes that 43 other measures were defeated in recent years.

Of those who supported the tax, the non-profit group Philadelphians for a Fair Future put up $2.2 million, $1.5 million of which came from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg tried to ban “super-sized” sodas from New York City in 2012, but it was ultimately ruled unconstitutional by the New York State Court of Appeals.

Spokesman for Philadelphians for a Fair Future, Kevin Feeley, said the group didn’t releases names of their backers earlier because of fears it would “open up those individuals to attack.”

“Such a tax is regressive, betraying the principle of tax fairness,” a coalition opposed to the tax wrote in a letter to Council President Darrell L. Clarke in June. “Mayor Kenney’s tax will disproportionately harm low-income individuals, as they spend a larger portion of their income on consumer goods like soda, and may not have the means to travel outside the city to shop.”

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