Philly Soda Tax At Forefront Of Health Department Budget Hearing

by Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There’s been a massive advertising effort both for and against the soda tax proposed for Philadelphia. But, in the end, it will be City Council that decides on it, and there was a glimpse into what members are considering at Tuesday’s Health Department budget hearing.

Mayor Kenney has stressed the three-cents-an-ounce soda tax he’s requested is not a health measure, but Health Commissioner Thomas Farley says improved health will be an additional benefit.

He appeared before the council to answer questions about the department’s budget, but much of the questioning revolved around the tax, with council members frequently coming back to the concern that the tax disproportionately impacts the poor. Farley says: not necessarily.

“This is one tax that no consumer has to pay, everyone can choose to buy bottled water or drink tap water, which is free,” he said.

Farley’s argument is that it’s soda itself that has a disproportionate impact because it is consumed more heavily in low-income communities and those communities have higher rates of obesity and diabetes.

“Obesity and diabetes are much more common among people of low-income, and we think the sugary drink tax is going to preferentially benefit people of low-income because they’re going to be more likely to reduce their consumption of sugary drinks,” he said, though council members seemed to remain skeptical.

Councilman David Oh asked if the soda tax proves insufficient to pay for the mayor’s agenda, “what’s next? Potato chips?”

Council is weighing the tax amidst intense lobbying that is likely to heat up.

Supporters of the tax are getting funding help from former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. A spokesman says the six-figure donation– he wouldn’t give the exact amount– is meant to balance spending by the beverage industry, which he estimated at $2.5 million.

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