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Why Philly's Proposed Soda Tax Matters

Photograph by Twenty20

Since Philadelphia's new mayor, Jim Kenney, proposed a tax on soda, iced tea and sugary drinks, there have been no signs of the heated debate fizzling out.

The city's conversation is an important one for families nationwide. Policy makers and the soda industry have been fighting similar tax proposals for the last decade—and it wasn't until late 2014 that Berkeley, Calif., paved the way as the first city in the United States to implement one.

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The motive behind Philly's proposal is different from the one in Berkeley, though. While Berkeley pushed the measure in hopes of minimizing soda consumption and its negative health effects, Philadelphia soda tax proponents argue that a tax of 3 cents per ounce of sugary drink levied on the distributors would generate more than $400 million in the next five years (money that would fund universal pre-K and community schools, renovate rundown parks, recreation centers and libraries, as well as buy new equipment for police and fire departments).

Because Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate—26 percent—amongst America's largest cities, the soda tax is especially controversial. On the one hand, the funds will take more big corporate profit and put it back into the community; it'll lead to a better city and environment for kids. On the other hand, as national trade groups like the American Beverage Association point out, the tax, which the ABA calls a "grocery tax on the kind of drinks we buy for our family," would impact the people who often buy those beverages—the very people the tax aims to help.

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"It doesn't take a whole lot of analysis to determine where those sugary drinks are being sold," council president Darrell Clarke told NPR. "So the question is, is that fair?"

Philadelphia administrators will not be holding a tax-specific hearing until May 11. Until then, there will be a lot more discussion on whether or not the proposed program "has value and substance ... and, unlike soda, no empty calories."

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