Pennsylvania – Philly Sweetened Beverage Tax Under Fire

Keller and Heckman LLP
The Daily INTAKE
October 18, 2017

  • As previously covered on this blog, on June 16, 2016, the Philadelphia city council voted 13-4 to approve a 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.  The tax – which took effect on January 1, 2017 – is levied on distributors and covers a variety of beverages, including soda and diet soda, non-100% fruit drinks; sports drinks; flavored water; energy drinks; pre-sweetened coffee or tea; and non-alcoholic beverages intended to be mixed into alcoholic drinks.  Prior to the January 1, 2017 effective date, the American Beverage Association (ABA) together with retailers, distributors and consumers filed a complaint in September 2016 in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas challenging Philadelphia’s soda tax (see previous blog coverage here).  The ABA lost at trial court and on appeal before the state’s Commonwealth Court. Most recently, on July 13, 2017, the ABA filed a petition with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court asking it to hear the case and to ultimately overturn the 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks and diet sodas.
  • In the meantime, the ABA has been endeavoring to have the Philadelphia City Council repeal the tax. And, just yesterday, a pair of Philadelphia politicians – Pennsylvania State Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia and Philadelphia City Commissioner Alan Butkowitz – railed against the city’s controversial sweetened beverage tax in a Pennsylvania Senate hearing Tuesday.  While proponents of the bill argue that the tax will help expand pre-K and upgrade parks and recreation centers, Sen. Williams and City Commissioner Butkowitz contend that these goals should be funded instead by sustaining the current wage tax.
  • Coming on the heels of Illinois’ Cook County ending its tax on soda and sugar drinks earlier this month, it remains to be seen how the Philadelphia tax will fare and what, if any, impact the outcome in Philadelphia will have on the appetite of other U.S. jurisdictions to pursue similar legislation.

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