Soda tax foes lead honking protest outside Philly City Hall

Daniel Grace of Teamsters Local 830 speaks as Jeff Brown looks on from right. (Tom MacDoinald, WHYY)

Daniel Grace of Teamsters Local 830 speaks as Jeff Brown looks on from right. (Tom MacDoinald, WHYY)

Bolstered by the repeal of a similar tax in Chicago, those opposed to Philadelphia’s sweetened beverage tax staged a rally outside City Hall Thursday.

Drivers of beverage trucks honked their horns as they circled City Hall. And Jeff Brown, owner of several ShopRite supermarkets, joined those calling on Mayor Jim Kenney to repeal the beverage tax.

“Chicago did it,” he said. “Grow up, you made a mistake … repeal this tax, repeal it now.”

Danny Grace, whose Teamsters Union Local 830 represents soda delivery drivers, said they continue to face losing their jobs and commissions because of the tax.

“We are all for pre-K and the other initiatives the mayor is pushing, but we are against the destructive public policy that hurts Philadelphia’s economy and the working families in our city,” he said.

The Kenney administration has said the tax revenue is vital for funding expanded pre-K and improvements to city libraries and recreation centers.

About 50 or so protesters showed up, joined the demonstration, then left. A few protesters regularly attend City Council’s weekly  sessions to send a more subtle version of this message.

Kenney has been adamant that he will not agree to repealing the tax.

“This tax went through a lengthy, public debate before it was passed. All of the arguments being aired by some of our colleagues in Harrisburg and by the beverage industry in a costly advertising and lobbying campaign were already carefully considered for months and weighed against the alternatives,” said Lauren Hitt, the mayor’s spokeswoman. “It was not a decision we made lightly.”

“We listened to those arguments and met with and heard the personal stories of many people who opposed the tax for four months before we made our decision, and our doors continue to be open for those wanting to discuss concerns,” she continued. “But we’d like to make one thing clear. It has been a year and half since the tax passed, and, while it is one with which some disagree, it is a decision that has funded programs benefiting thousands of Philadelphia families.

“We will not repeal this tax and turn our backs on them,” she said.

So far, court challenges to the tax have come up short.

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