Reporting Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter is proposing a tax on soda and other sugary drinks as he and City Council continue trying to help bail out the cash-starved Philadelphia school district.
On Thursday, Nutter sent City Council a revival of his soda tax idea that was soundly rejected by the lawmakers last year. This time he proposes two-cents per ounce, to bring in an estimated $80 million a year.
Nutter is also expected to raise rates at parking meters and kiosks to raise an additional $6 million. Council approval of that is not needed.
Also being discussed as part of the School District bailout is a hike in property taxes similar to last year’s nearly 10-percent hike (see related story), which the administration says could bring in $95 million.
Councilman Darrell Clarke is introducing a measure calling for a smaller increase, with provisions to make the school district accountable for how the money is spent.
Council members, by and large, say they are extremely hesitant to agree to another property tax hike, and many also say they are skeptical of enacting a soda tax. The beverage industry successfully lobbied against the idea last year.
Council members like Marian Tasco don’t want to single out one industry.
“After we went through the fiasco last year on the sugar tax, I looked at it,” Councilwoman Tasco told KYW Newsradio. “As I eat an Oreo, I said, there’s sugar here. Much more sugar than in the soda.”
Council President Anna Verna says hearings were being scheduled for Friday, June 10th, on both the soda and property tax proposals.
“There is absolutely no appetite — and I only speak for myself — for raising property taxes by 10 percent. So the only thing that is left is the soda tax,” she said.
On Thursday morning, Mayor Nutter focused on his effort to help the school district close its budget gap as he accepted the “Citizen of the Year” award from the Red Cross.
Nutter told the business and community leaders attending the award breakfast that working schools are essential to the economic health of the city and, thus, it becomes a city responsibility to make sure they’re funded.
“I run the city. I don’t run the schools, but they’re my children — they’re my children,” the mayor said.
Nutter said later that the measures he’s suggested are not all necessary, but are meant to give City Council a range of options:
“So, for instance, a combination of the sugar-sweetened beverage and additional parking revenues would actually cover what we need without any real estate tax increase,” Nutter explained.
The mayor says he hopes there will be a serious discussion about which measures to adopt.
So, if you had to choose just one of the proposed options, which would it be? When asked, most people gave KYW Newsradio one of two answers: soda, and definitely not soda.
Soda tax proponents, such as Jonathan Ramirez, pointed out that it would accomplish more than just raising revenue: “Tax on the soda, because you shouldn’t be drinking soda. Start eating right.”
So while a soda tax would be good for us, Ramirez pointed out a real estate tax increase could be bad.
“Not the real estate. For me, increasing the soda’s not going to hurt a lot, but real estate could hurt a lot, especially with people buying the houses and this economy still not that good,” he said.
The anti-soda-tax contingent confessed to drinking a lot of it, including Paul.
“As long as it’s not soda, I’ll be happy,” Paul said, as he sipped a diet soda.
But there was also the predictable answer: “None of them, really.”
And then, the off-the-wall: “I think he should raise the sales tax to 20 percent,” one person said.
When told that would make buying goods in Philadelphia really expensive, he said, “It’s already expensive.”
Reported by Mike Dunn and Pat Loeb, KYW Newsradio 1060