Soda lobbyists to Council: Repeal the tax

Councilman Bill Greenlee (left) with Council President Darrell Clarke and Blondell Reynolds Brown last year. About a half-dozen people circled Greenlee on Thursday before Council's meeting to complain about the sweetened-beverage tax.

Soda lobbyists, sales people, and delivery drivers flooded the City Council caucus room before Council’s weekly meeting Thursday to complain they were suffering financially under the new sweetened-beverage tax.

It was the largest showing by industry representatives in City Hall since the 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sweetened and diet beverages passed in June. The tax went into effect in January.  The city will make its first round of collections  Monday.

Industry workers wearing jackets emblazoned with the logos of their beverage companies said that a month and a half in, they were already feeling the tax's impact, and asked Council members to consider amending or repealing the levy.

“All right, guys, here we go. Look alive,” said Lauren Craig, a senior manager of public affairs at the Coca-Cola Co., as the room started to fill in.

About a half-dozen people circled Councilman William K. Greenlee.

“We had to make a decision and we made that decision,” Greenlee said to those gathered and to reporters. “We thought we tried to do as much as we could to cut it down from 3 cents to 1.5 cents. We knew it was going to have an impact, and we’ll just have to see as time goes on what that impact will be.”

John Carpineta, an account representative for Coca-Cola who lives in Holmesburg, told Greenlee he expects a $12,000 pay cut this year. He said he had to tell his son, a senior in high school, that his first-choice college, Drexel, would likely be impossible.

“I can’t sustain the household losing 25 to 35 percent of my income every week,” Carpineta said. “It’s not possible. Not with the mortgage and the auto payment and two kids in college.”

In his 11 years on Council, Greenlee said, he has never seen a tax repealed, and said he wouldn’t consider that so early on.

“Not at this point," he said. "We at least have to give it considerably more time to see its impact." 

Across the room, Joshua West, 28, a district manager for Coca-Cola, told Councilman Derek Green the tax had made him regret moving back to Philadelphia after going to Chicago for school. He said his average paychecks were down 15 percent. “If the beverage industry can’t grow here, I might have to look at other opportunities outside of the city,” he said.

Councilman David Oh, who voted against the tax, also said it was premature to revisit the issue.

“I think it’s a little early," he said. "It’s important people are here talking. They’re really talking about losing their jobs, which I think was clearly anticipated and explained. I think Council members will consider what’s been said, but we’ve just initiated it.”

At the Council meeting Thursday, members passed a bill amending the Philadelphia health code to require disclosure of lead hazards.

Councilwoman Cherelle L. Parker introduced a resolution asking U.S. senators to oppose a measure that would bar states and large cities from creating retirement security plans for private-sector workers. Philadelphia is exploring such a program through a task force established by Council.

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