With the Mayor’s soda tax facing stiff opposition in City Council – including Council President Darrell Clarke yesterday calling it “ridiculous” and unlikely to pass – Council will now debate an alternate tax introduced by At-Large Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown: a 15-cent tax imposed on any beverage container sold in the city aside from milk and baby formula. The tax, borrowed from Baltimore – not exactly known as a bastion of good governance – would be even further reaching than a tax on sugary beverages, and thus even more difficult for consumers to avoid.
“Councilwoman Reynolds-Brown’s container tax is possibly even more regressive and difficult to justify than the Mayor’s soda tax proposal,” said Joe DeFelice, Chairman of the Philadelphia Republican Party. “She is correct that the tax would ‘cast a wider net’: even more opportunities for people with means to leave the city along with their tax dollars, and even fewer opportunities to those already struggling with their finances to avoid a regressive tax.”
Though we’ve argued that the Mayor’s soda tax proposal is a job-killer and would fall primarily on the working poor, at least it could be said that the tax would be avoidable by changing behavior. Apparently Councilwoman Reynolds-Brown thinks the most equitable option for the poor is to have nothing to drink at all. There is no sin-tax justification for taxing liquids, nor is there a similar moniker to “Big Soda” which can be applied to “Big Water” or “Big Vital Functions.” The container tax proposal amounts to an arbitrary tax on unavoidable consumption, and will obviously fall even more heavily on the working poor than a soda tax would.
With the Mayor’s proposal facing justifiable opposition, it will be fascinating to see his administration flip-flop from yesterday’s assertion that he is “not willing to consider” the container tax as an alternative. If he abandons this stance and accepts a container tax, it will show reveal juts how hollow all of his rhetoric was about the ravages of “Big Soda”.
Mayor Kenney twice opposed an even less regressive soda tax while he was in City Council. At the beginning of this debate, he justified his sudden conversion to soda tax advocate, saying, “It turns out in the end to be the only revenue source.” With his proposal flopping and a completely different tax hike moving through Council, Philadelphians can trust in one thing: the Mayor and Council have many, many more ideas for ways to expand city government on the backs of taxpayers and consumers.