Trib editorial: Philly's fizzling soda tax
A recent Harrisburg hearing on Philadelphia's “soda tax” at least was held — unlike a June attempt at Philly's City Hall that ended after 45 minutes of soda-tax supporters' noisemaking. Unsurprisingly, this hearing confirmed what is patently an ill-advised tax.
Pro-soda-tax Philly Mayor Jim Kenney naively wrote in a Huffington Post piece last year that businesses would be “immoral and completely hypocritical” to pass it along to consumers. But they're not the only victims since this 1.5-cents-per-ounce levy on sugary and diet beverages took effect Jan. 1. A Philly-area CEO testified that at his chain's city supermarkets, beverage sales are down by half and overall sales are down 10 to 25 percent as shoppers avoiding the tax visit his suburban stores, and 210 jobs have been cut.
He also said the tax “falls disproportionately on people of color and assumes they can't make wise decisions regarding their health.” Philly Democrat state Sen. Anthony Williams added, “We don't tax lattes. Maybe we should.” He dislikes the tax but likes what it funds, yet it's also failing financially: Philly's outgoing controller testified that its shortfall compared to the $90 million it was supposed to generate annually — for pre-K and community schools, parks, recreation centers and libraries — could reach $15 million.
Now there's talk of Senate legislation that would end the soda tax in Philly and prevent it elsewhere — which wouldn't be needed if Philly had the economic and common sense to not implement it in the first place.