City Hall sources tell Citified that Mayor Jim Kenney is going to propose a soda tax next week at his first budget address. We don’t know the exact rate yet — or how such a tax would be structured — but we’ll tell you once we do.
A tax on soda could set off a major legislative battle. Former Mayor Michael Nutter tried — and failed — to pass a soda tax in both 2010 and 2011.
The beverage industry and the Teamsters joined together to lobby aggressively against Nutter’s plan. For every school official advocating for the sugary beverage tax in City Hall, “there were two people paid by the beverage industry who were pulling City Council members out into the hallway and into their offices and working on them,” School District Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch said of 2011. The fact that soda mogul Harold Honickman was a major campaign contributor didn’t help Nutter, either.
Fascinatingly, Kenney was one of the Council members who fought against the soda tax during the Nutter era. In 2012, he told NewsWorks, “I was not for the soda tax the first time. I will not be for it the second time.”
Honickman remains a player in local politics. And in 2012, the American Beverage Association spent nearly $240,000 lobbying against the possibility of the soda tax — even though Nutter, after having lost that battle twice, insisted that he wasn’t planning on proposing legislation.
But there are a few factors that could make a soda tax more viable today than it was in Nutter’s time. For one thing, Council Majority Leader Bobby Henon has a favorable view of the idea. Last year, he was seriously thinking about introducing a soda tax. He even had a bill drawn up and a strategy mapped out. There are also 10 members of City Council today who were not there in 2010 and 2011. And, not unimportantly, the Teamsters endorsed Kenney’s opponent, state Sen. Tony Williams, in the mayoral race.
Earlier this month, some City Hall observers quietly speculated that a tax on sugary beverages might be in the works, given that Kenney appointed soda fighter Thomas Farley to be his health commissioner. That, and the fact that Kenney has a host of potentially costly priorities, from expanding pre-K to creating community schools.
Advocates for soda taxes say they can simultaneously fight obesity and raise money for cash-strapped cities, while opponents say they are legally questionable and kill jobs.
Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for Kenney, declined to comment.
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