Philly Council president calls for compromise to pay for pre-K

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Council President Darrell Clark and Kenney administration officials talk taxes in Council chambers Wednesday.(Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Council President Darrell Clark and Kenney administration officials talk taxes in Council chambers Wednesday.(Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Representatives of the Kenney administration talked taxes during a City Council hearing.

And there appears to be some softening on the hard line on taxes espoused by Mayor Jim Kenney.

Philadelphia Finance Director Rob Dubow testified Wednesday that the sugary beverage tax rate could be dropped a bit and still generate the money the mayor needs to fund citywide pre-K, repairs to libraries and recreation centers, as well as other initiatives.

“There is analysis done by Council technical staff — with which we agree — that 2.5 cents will generate sufficient revenue,” Dubow said.

That’s slightly less than the 3 cents per ounce originally proposed. 

Dubow, however, called the 15 cent tax on drink containers that’s been proposed as an alternative tax regressive.  He said it would be unfair to tax each container at the same rate, no matter what size and what it contains.

“People have fewer options to get around this tax, so if you are talking about impact on lower-income neighborhoods, they would have fewer options to get around this tax,” he said.

City Council President Darrell Clarke used the hearing to send a message to Kenney, calling for compromise.

“Everybody in this room, on this side of the rail, knows there isn’t going to be a 3 cent-an-ounce tax,” he said. “So the notion that you are going to raise all of the revenue to do all of the programs is not realistic.”

Other Council members are calling for a possible combination of taxes to raise the money for the programs Kenney wants.  Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez even said she would vote for another hike in real estate taxes to avoid a soda tax.

“We respectfully disagree with the [Clarke’s] assertion about Council’s support for a soda tax,” said Kenney spokeswoman Lauren Hitt in an emailed statement. “As a lot of members expressed [Wednesday] in Council, they’re taking the next week to make up their minds.

“However, if nine Council members actually do decide they can’t support it at 3 cents, it’s important to note the soda tax at 1.5, 2, or 2.5 cents would all raise significantly more revenue than a 15-cent container tax,” she continued. “Additionally, we oppose the container tax because it is highly regressive, taxing necessities like water and health supplements.”

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