Is Philadelphia’s Soda Tax Legal?  

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The Philadelphia City Council approved a 1.5-cents-per-ounce tax increase for sugar-added and artificially sweetened soft drinks. A massive, regressive tax that will hurt Philly’s poorest residents.

Mayor Jim Kenney (D-Philadelphia) sold the tax by promising that the revenue will be used exclusively for “do-good” government programs, including a pre-kindergarten expansion. However, in an eleventh-hour bombshell the Mayor’s office informed the Council that the revenue from the new tax will be used to plug structural problems in the city’s budget.

Mayor Kenney pushed through a massive, regressive beverage tax on a false promise.

In the same legislative session, the City Council also advanced a plan that offers tax credits to merchants who sell “healthy” beverages in their stores. So the Council is hiking the taxes on sugar-added and artificially sweetened beverages yet offering tax credits for “healthy” beverages.

In Philadelphia, not all beverages are equal under the law. However, Article VIII, Section 1, of the Pennsylvania Constitution states:

All taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects, within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax, and shall be collected under general laws.”

The dictionary defines “uniformity” as “the quality or state of being the same.” Under these new proposals, will beverages be taxed uniformly in Philadelphia?

In the “same class of subjects,” Philly will reward tax credits to some beverages but punish other beverages with tax hikes. Is the City Council in violation of the Tax Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution?

A final vote on the “soda” tax is expected to take place on June 16. Let’s hope Council Members take a look at the Pennsylvania Constitution and a Webster’s dictionary before the final vote.

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