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Philly Judge Says Soda Tax Is NOT A Sales Tax And Is Totally Legal

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A Philadelphia, Pa., judge dismissed a case claiming the city’s soda tax was unconstitutional Monday, admitting it targets makers and distributors of sugary beverages.

Common Pleas Court Judge Gary Glazer threw out the case, brought by a coalition including Philadelphia businesses, citizens, American Beverage Association and other industry organizations, saying that because the Philadelphia Beverage Tax directly affects the distributor rather than the consumer, it doesn’t count as a sales tax.

The plaintiffs argued that the soda tax is unconstitutional because it added an additional fee that would be passed on to consumers who already pay a sales tax.

Glazer denied those arguments were valid, saying all that matters is how the tax “operates, not what private actors will do in response to the tax to offset the burden of the tax.”

Glazer said the plaintiff’s argument that the soda tax goes against laws about food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is not subject to sales tax, is also invalid.

Philadelphia passed the tax, 1.5 cents per ounce on all sugary drinks, in June of this year, and will go into effect in January. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated more than $1.4 million to the Philadelphia measure, and has supported other measures around the country. (RELATED: Four More Cities Have Soda Taxes Thanks To Michael Bloomberg’s $18 Million)

Democratic Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney applauded the decision as a “victory for Philadelphians, who have waited far too long for investment in their education system and in their neighborhoods.” The tax is supposed to bring in $60 million a year when fully implemented.

“The industry has chosen not to challenge beverage taxes in other municipalities and there is no reason to continue pursuing it here,” Kenney said after the ruling.

The beverage industry, however, does not appear to be backing down.

“We shall appeal,” Shanin Specter, an attorney for the plaintiff’s coalition, said in a brief statement.

“We will continue to oppose this discriminatory and regressive tax, which is not a sustainable revenue source to support important initiatives like pre-K programs,” Philadelphians Against Grocery Tax Coalition, which brought the lawsuit, said in a statement.

“Philadelphia families will be shocked in January when prices jump on more than one thousand common beverages, including teas, soft drinks, juice drinks and no-calorie and low-calorie options,” the statement said.

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