Kenney: Soda Tax Could Raise $400 Million for Pre-K, Parks, Jobs

The mayor's proposal would fund his — and the council president's — priorities.

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Mayor Jim Kenney says his proposed soda tax could bring in $400 million over five years — money that would be used to fund universal pre-K, along with other high-priority projects at City Hall.

Kenney discussed his proposal — to tax sugary beverages at three cents per ounce — in an interview with the Inquirer. Kenney opposed the tax when it was proposed by then-Mayor Michael Nutter several years ago at two cents per ounce. So did Council President Darrell Clarke — who, for now, is mum on the topic.

Kenney’s proposal seems designed to win Clarke’s support, however, with revenues going to fund two of the council president’s priorities: Community schools and an energy jobs plan — to the tune of $39 million and $23 million over five years, respectively. Another $26 million would go to help gird the city’s underfunded pension system, while $56 million would be used to retire debt on Kenney’s new plan to make over the city’s public spaces. (The bulk, $256 million over five years, would go to pre-K.)

The mayor makes his proposal with a significant signal of possible support from David L. Cohen, Comcast’s vice president and a leader in the Philadelphia business community. In an op-ed published today, Cohen said that in Philadelphia, “pre-K is not an option — it’s a critical equalizer.”

“In order to fund pre-K, it is a near certainty that the mayor will need to propose new revenue sources,” Cohen wrote. “If we in the business community are serious about our long-standing support for pre-K, we can’t be dismissive of proposals necessary to pay for it.”

That doesn’t mean there won’t be critics — far from it. But Cohen’s help would be a good thing for Kenney to have going into a likely soda tax battle.

In his interview with the Inquirer, the mayor rejected the idea the tax will fall most heavily on the poor.

“That’s fallacious because the money stays in the neighborhood,” he told the paper. “So if it’s a quarter, 30 cents more, that doesn’t go to the manufacturer. That stays in the neighborhood by creating pre-K, community schools and improving recreational infrastructure.”

Kenney gives his formal budget address on Thursday.

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