A Cheaper Alternative to Philly's Controversial Soda Tax?

Could a container tax be the compromise solution to Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney's controversial "Soda Tax?"

Philadelphia City Council discussed Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown's plan to tax 15 cents on all beverages over 7 ounces with the exception of baby formula, milk and alcohol. The so-called "container tax" (similar to a Baltimore law) would put a lesser tax burden on consumers compared to the 3-cents-per-ounce sugary beverage tax.

The legislation defines a non-reusable beverage container as an "individual, separate, and sealed glass, metal, or plastic bottle, can, jar, or carton, not ordinarily collected from consumers for refilling, that contains a beverage of more than seven fluid ounces, and is intended for consumption off premises."

Reynolds Brown claims her plan could yield up to $64 million.

"We believe firmly that it's not actually cheaper," said Kenney spokeswoman Lauren Hitt. "It's more expensive because it affects more products."

Kenney's proposed sugary-beverage tax, aka "soda tax," would be used to help fund educational initiatives, rehab recreation centers and better-equip police and fire departments, according to Kenney.

"Not only would this tax raise less than half of what is needed to implement Pre-K, community schools and rebuild our parks, rec centers and libraries, but it also hurts working families," said Hitt. "Unlike the soda tax, consumers will be unable to avoid the wide range of products sold in containers, like bottled water, 100-percent juices and other essentials."

Earlier, Kenney told city council the soda tax would provide $400 million to be split among several initiatives. 

The soda tax is part of Kenney's proposed $4.17-billion spending plan, which exceeds last year's budget by $100 million. It is now in the hands of the city council, which has opposed similar sugary drinks taxes twice before under Kenney's predecessor Michael Nutter.

"If the goal is to provide a sustainable proposal that will allow for Universal Pre-K for all , improvements and access to recreation centers for all and community schools for all, then the tax should impact all--from soda to Perrier,” Reynolds Brown said. "The legislation symbolizes shared sacrifice and does not focus on one specific group, product or industry, therefore, it is less regressive, more sustainable and equitable.

"From the very beginning of this process, my office has asked for alternatives," said Reynolds Brown. "This legislation fosters continued discussion, conversation and debate about how we fund these essential programs."

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