Soda Tax Opponents Rally Outside City Hall

Jonathan Saidel spoke at a protest against the proposed soda tax outside City Hall on Tuesday. (Sarah J. Glover / Staff Photographer)

Union workers, business owners, advocates for the soda industry and several City Council members gathered outside City Hall today to protest Mayor Nutter’s proposed soda tax.

The sugar-sweetened beverages tax is one of three proposals from Mayor Nutter to help provide funds to the cash-poor school district, which faces a $629 million deficit in the coming fiscal year. Nutter's other proposals include a 10 percent property tax hike and an increase on parking meter rates.

Over the blare of horns from soda truck drivers, opponents said the tax unfairly targets their industry.

“It’s real easy if you want to put things on the backs of working people,” said William Hamilton, president of Teamsters Joint Council No. 53. “This is just another way to do it, a fancier way by putting it on an industry that’s going to cause good hard-working jobs for this City. Just say no and we’ll be here to tell Mayor Nutter he won’t be getting it again this year.

Danny Grace business manager for Teamsters Union Local 830 said Nutter’s proposal is deplorable and should it pass members of the Union would file a lawsuit.

A soda-tax proposal from Nutter last year -- billed as an effort to plug a budget hole and curb obesity -- failed in City Council. This year, the Nutter administration argues that this tax is the best way to help stave off painful cuts and teacher layoffs at the school district.

But there seems no clear consensus for the tax yet on City Council. And they're running out of time to approve a funding plan. Four members attended the rally today -- Jannie Blackwell, Bill Green, Bill Greenlee and Brian O'Neill.

“In my opinion no matter what form it’s in the soda tax is illegal and not only that I know it’s unfair. It’s unfair to the industry, it’s unfair to the business people, to the workers and the consumer,” said Councilman Bill Greenlee. “I will continue to be against it because it is the wrong way to go.”

O'Neill also said he wouldn't support the tax.

“No one’s going to buy a soft-drink in Philadelphia unless they have no other choice,” O’Neill said. “That means anybody that produces distributes or sells beverages in Philadelphia is going to be in really bad shape and who does that eventually hurt the poor, the elderly and anybody with a job in this industry.”