Almost one year after Philadelphia passed a 1.5-cents-per-ounce tax on sweetened drinks, the soda industry continues its opposition — and its pressure on City Council.
Lobbying reports filed with Philadelphia’s ethics board show the American Beverage Association, a trade group, has spent more than $2 million on lobbying efforts since July, adding to the $10.6 million it spent before City Council voted to pass the tax in June. About $1.6 million of the post-vote money was spent between January and March, the first three months after the tax took effect.
On Monday morning, workers from local soda distributors delivered 17 boxes of petitions and letters opposing the tax to City Hall — one box for each Council member.
Anthony Campisi, a spokesman for the anti-tax campaign, said the boxes included more than 13,000 petition signatures and letters from consumers and business owners who are angry the prices of thousands of beverages have gone up. While the tax is levied on beverage distributors, many retailers have passed it on to their customers, which has led to declines in sales.
Campisi admits getting City Council to repeal the measure is a long shot, but the industry is playing a long game.
“We would like this tax to go away,” Campisi said. “And, at this point, we’re trying to educate everyone and keep it in people’s minds to basically create momentum to do something down the road.”
The soda industry is also challenging the tax in Commonwealth Court.
Since taking effect in January, the tax has raised more than $19 million with most of the revenue going to expand subsidized preschool, create community schools and fund major renovations at city parks, recreation centers and libraries.
Supporters — especially Mayor Jim Kenney — maintain the tax is working by bringing in the revenue needed for those initatives, which could make or break his legacy.
Before City Council passed the tax, the nonprofit Philadelphians For A Fair Future spent about $2.5 million on an ad campaign promoting the measure. The organization dissolved after the vote, and Kenney has continued to focus on the positive with frequent tours of pre-K providers and community schools that have directly benefited from the revenue. The Texas-based Laura and John Arnold Foundation has also donated $500,000 to help the city withstand the soda industry’s legal challenge.