The Philadelphia City Council is set to give final approval to 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, specifically a pre-kindergarten expansion. However, in an eleventh-hour bombshell the Mayor’s office informed the Council that less than half of the revenue will be earmarked for pre-K. Millions of dollars will be used to plug structural problems in the city’s budget.
Ronald D. Castille, a former chief justice of Pennsylvania, writes in Philly.Com that the Philadelphia Mayor and Council are pushing an unconstitutional soda tax:
“Mayor Kenney and City Council are in the process of violating the Pennsylvania Constitution” because “the proposed tax by the ounce is a thinly disguised sales tax.” The Mayor is trying “to claim that the tax is imposed on the distributor, not the consumer. The city implausibly believes the tax will not be passed on to the consumer.” However, businesses ALWAYS pass the cost of all taxation onto their customers in the prices of the goods and services they sell.
This brings up Article VIII, Section 1, of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The uniformity clause 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 city says the distributor will bear the burden of this tax. But a distributor in Reading or Altoona, for instance, would not have a similar tax on the distribution of these beverages. Consumers in other counties do not have to pay a similar tax on these beverages.” The former chief justice is right – the Philly soda tax is a clear violation of the uniformity clause.