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Updated: It's Official, Philadelphia Passes the Soda Tax, Becomes First Major U.S. City to Do So

A final vote next week will make Philly just the second city in the U.S. to tax sugary beverages

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Update: June 16, 4:07 p.m. Today, Philadelphia officially became the first major city in the United States to impose a "soda tax" on sugar-sweetened and diet beverages. According to a report by Philly.com, the tax will impact "thousands of products". Simply put, if a sugary or artificially sweetened item in a bottle, can, or from a fountain is sold, then the tax will be implemented, 1.5 cents-per-ounce. The tax is expected to raise around $91 million annually, which will, in turn, go towards "expanding pre-kindergarten programs in the city; the creation of community schools; improvements to parks, recreation centers and libraries; and a tax-credit program for businesses that sell healthy beverages."

After more than six hours of private negotiations, truck rallies and toddler read-ins, city council members gave preliminary approval to a 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on sodas and sugary drinks last night. The decision won't be final until council takes a full official vote next week but yesterday a majority of members approved the bill in committee after spending the afternoon and evening meeting with opponents from the grocery and beverage industries.

According to Philly.com,

The levy, which is expected to face legal challenges from a beverage industry that has spent millions fighting it, would hit thousands of items, including all sweetened beverages, whether sugar-based or diet. That includes bottled or fountain sodas, teas, sports drinks, flavored waters, and energy drinks, among other products. Exempt products include baby formula and beverages that are more than 50 percent fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, or milk. Beverages for which customers request sweetener or add it themselves (such as at a coffee shop) are also exempt.

The paper reports that council members finally approved the proposal after years of failed similar attempts because money raised from the tax would go to support an expanded pre-k program, libraries and rec centers. However, in a sudden development initiated by the mayor's administration yesterday, a portion of the levy will go into the city's fund balance -- the difference between revenue and expenditures -- through 2020. The last-minute announcement didn't derail the plan, just as the rally of soda delivery trucks outside City Hall and the group of small children reading books in the hallways likely didn't impact any votes, either.

Philly.com reports that if the proposal passes, Philly will be the first big American city to levy a tax on sugary beverages and just the second city to do so after Berkeley, CA.

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