Philly controller says soda tax could have been averted

Controller Alan Butkovitz says Philadelphia could have done without the sugary drinks tax by forgoing wage tax cuts. (File photo)

Controller Alan Butkovitz says Philadelphia could have done without the sugary drinks tax by forgoing wage tax cuts. (File photo)

Philadelphia’s city controller says the city should never have established a soda tax.  It’s one of several disagreements the outgoing official has had with Mayor Jim Kenney.

Controller Alan Butkovitz says if the Kenney administration had forgone small wage-tax cuts, the city would not have needed a tax on sweetened drinks to fund pre-K expansion and other initiatives in the city.

“In their five-year plan that they released a couple of months ago, they also recommended $300 million in wage-tax cuts,” he said Monday. “It’s really a bait and switch … they are using the soda tax to subsidize wage-tax cuts.”

As a result, Butkovitz said, supermarkets could close, especially in neighborhoods that don’t have other access to fresh food.

“it was the policy and sacred promise of this city to do what they could so that the people of the inner city and the city at large had access to a variety of food and healthy products,” he said. “About 10 years later, the city is pursuing a policy that goes directly contrary to that.”

Mike Dunn, a spokesman for Kenney, said officials last year “considered different funding options for these core programs and we determined that new programs require a new funding stream — a course that economists found to be sound. The beverage tax was determined to be the least detrimental to the city as a whole, particularly when compared to the controller’s desire to stave off reductions in the wage tax.

Butkovitz, Dunn said, “seems narrowly focused on the needs of one industry to the potential detriment of the entire business community.”

During his last months in office, the controller is in the process of surveying sugary drink retailers to see how the 1.5-cents-per-ounce tax is affecting their business.

 

 

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