Amended version of soda tax moves forward in Philadelphia City Council

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A Philadelphia City Council committee has voted to approve an amended version of a soda tax proposal that would set a 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on sugary and diet drinks.

"Very much a win," said Shawn Towey, PCCY. "It's not the whole three cents that the mayor proposed, but it's still a lot of money."

"What retailers tell us is they're going to be forced to pass this tax onto consumers, and that this will still raise taxes on thousands of items," said Anthony Campisi, Philadelphians Against Grocery Tax.

Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney's initial proposal was for a 3-cent tax on sugary beverages only, but he lacked the votes to secure it. He wants the tax to pay for universal prekindergarten, community schools and park improvements.

"And now we're being told the need for the additional revenue is to support the fund balance," said City Council President Darrell Clark. "That should have been talked about early on in this process"

"All along it was about pre-K and the kids, and you heard it as well as I did. It's not about that. Paying off debt service," said Daniel Grace, Teamsters Local 830. "He ought to be ashamed of himself."

Wednesday night's vote is a so-called small win in a larger fight.

"Tonight is the first step, it's an important step, and we're cautiously optimistic," said Kevin, Philadelphians for a Fairer Future.

Opponents at a public hearing before Wednesday's vote shouted "No new tax!" Supporters countered with "Kids can't wait."

Some argued the amended version would not raise enough money and send the wrong message.

"And will not have the same public health benefit that a soda tax would," said Yael Lehmann, The Food Trust. "Soda offers no nutritional benefit and is a choice. Water however is essential for our well-being."

Voices on both sides of the issue spent the day rallying around City Hall.

The message: Soda tax supporters don't understand how higher soda costs will impact jobs.

"I don't believe that they believe that there's 2,000 jobs at stake here," said William Hamilton of the Teamsters International Union. "Do we raise taxes to throw people out of the city and companies out of the city?"

Supermarket Frozen Food Manager Anthony Jackson had a tough life.

"I have a lengthy past, a criminal background. I was incarcerated a lot," said Jackson.

But he turned it around. On Wednesday, he wanted council to know a tax that could double or triple the cost of drinks could have a cost.

"I know the owner of the company, he is going to have to downsize so I might be one of the people that go, not only me, but the people under me would be the first ones to go," said Jackson. "Cashiers they can't provide for their families so everybody is in a tough squeeze."

The soda industry has spent millions of dollars on a campaign to stop Philadelphia from becoming the first major U.S. city with a sugary drink tax.

Berkeley, California, is the only U.S. city to approve such a tax.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Beverages are displayed at a demonstration against a proposed sugary drinks tax Wednesday, May 4, 2016, outside City Hall in Philadelphia.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

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