Berkeley, local groups throw support behind Philly soda tax

A group including the American Heart Association, the African-American Chamber of Commerce, and the City of Berkeley, Calif., filed a brief in support of Philadelphia’s beverage tax Friday.

The filing, known as an amicus brief, asserts the organizations’ standing with the administration's position and defends the tax and the programs it will fund.

The 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages, which went into effect in January, is projected by the city to bring in $92 million a year in revenue. The money funds a pre-K program, community schools, and, in smaller part, Kenney’s Rebuild program for park and recreation centers citywide.

Public Citizens for Children and Youth, a nonprofit that helped the city design its pre-K program, said in the brief: “The City of Philadelphia’s children face daunting health and education problems. The [Philadelphia Beverage Tax] is a well-designed policy to address these problems. It provides the city with the means to give more children access to healthy spaces.…”

Berkeley, which became the first city to enact a soda tax in March 2015, also signed on, saying its tax “shares many characteristics with the Philadelphia Beverage Tax. Based on Berkeley’s experience, a per-fluid-ounce tax on the distribution of sugar-sweetened beverages within a municipality can operate smoothly and effectively to achieve public health goals and raise revenue to support important municipal services.”

In February, five state senators and 31 state representatives filed an amicus brief in support of those opposing the tax. That brief called the tax illegal and argued that it could have a negative impact on the state’s budget.

The tax was upheld in December and is under appeal. A hearing is expected in early April.

On Friday the city also responded to a brief filed by the American Beverage Association and local retailers challenging the tax in Commonwealth Court. The city’s brief argues the tax is lawful and is not duplicative of the state sales tax since it is levied at the distributor level.