PHILADELPHIA -- A proposed 1.5-cents-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages will proceed as planned after a Philadelphia judge Dec. 19 dismissed the beverage industry’s legal efforts to stop it.
The American Beverage Association and other businesses and industry associations filed a lawsuit Sept. 14, saying the tax—to go into effect Jan. 1—is unconstitutional because sugar-sweetened beverages already are subject to a state sales tax, and Pennsylvania law prohibits cities from imposing duplicate taxes. Sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks and juice drinks with less than 50% juice would be affected.
The lawsuit also claimed cities or states are barred from taxing items that are purchased with federally funded food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
Judge Gary Glazer of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas rejected those arguments and dismissed the lawsuit in its entirety, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Although stores are already preparing for the tax, David McCorkle, president of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association (a plaintiff in the lawsuit), said the industry coalition fighting the tax would appeal the ruling.
“Our members are preparing and training their employees who work in the checkout line to inform customers why in some cases the cost of beverages is going to double,” McCorkle told the Wall Street Journal. “A lot of people are going to be going across county lines to buy these sweetened beverages.”
“Philadelphia families will be shocked in January when prices jump on more than 1,000 common beverages,” said the Philadelphians Against Grocery Tax Coalition, a group of local business owners and individuals opposed to the tax. “We will continue to oppose this discriminatory and regressive tax.”
In June, Philadelphia became the first large U.S. city to pass a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. Mayor Jim Kenney pushed for the tax as a way to raise $91 million annually for prekindergarten and other city services.
Five other local U.S. governments followed suit with similar measures.
Commissioners in Cook County, Ill., in November narrowly approved a penny-per-ounce tax on soda and other sweetened beverages, hoping to raise more than $200 million a year.
And on Election Day, voters in San Francisco, Oakland and Albany passed ballot measures to impose a penny-per-ounce levy on nonalcoholic drinks with caloric sweeteners, while Boulder, Colo., residents approved a tax of 2 cents an ounce.
Berkeley, Calif., in 2014 became the first U.S. city to pass a tax on sweetened beverages.