Philadelphia, California officials meet with city council on soda tax

SEATTLE — City officials from Philadelphia and Berkeley, Calif., told Seattle City Council members that they have yet to see any lasting effects from the soda taxes that have been enacted.

Philadelphia and Berkeley were among the first cities in the country to push for a soda tax, with Mayor Ed Murray following suit with his own soda tax proposal.

Mayor Murray's proposal would tag $1.75 per ounce tax on sugary drinks and is expected to raise $18 million next year. The revenue would mostly go to education programs.

Small business owners in the area said they are afraid the effects of a soda tax here won't be the same.

Ryan Hopkins owns Bosses drive-in in White Center and he hasn't been quiet about how he feels a proposed Seattle soda tax would hurt his business.

“Do it in a way that doesn't affect people's jobs, doesn't affect small business people's margins, and doesn't affect the consumers to the point they'll have to pay double,” Hopkins said.

On Wednesday, Seattle's Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods and Finance Committee members heard from officials in Berkeley and Philadelphia. Philadelphia’s one-and-a-half cent per ounce tax on sugary drinks went into effect earlier this year. The city reported that in the last three months, the tax has brought in $19 million and city leaders said claims of struggling businesses were overblown.

“Sometimes they say layoffs, sometimes they then back away from that and actually we cut hours or it was jobs people left and we opted not to fill,” Marisa Waxman, First Deputy Revenue Commissioner for the city of Philadelphia, said.

But there also is an effort underway in Philadelphia to repeal the soda tax. Supporters of the repeal delivered 18,000 to their city council just last week.

In Seattle, if distributors pass the cost of the tax increase to consumers the price of a 99-cent liter of soda could hit $2.17 and a 12-pack of soda could increase as much as $2.52.

City leaders from Berkeley told the committee they also saw health benefits with their soda tax.

“In low income communities in Berkeley, consumption of sugary beverages dropped by 21 percent,” Dr. Jennifer Falbe from the University of California, Berkeley said.

Hopkins said he is certain the increased taxes on sugary drinks will have an adverse effect on businesses.

“There are plenty of businesses out there that rely on the income from these beverages to keep them alive -- for them to double the price of it is unreasonable,” he said.

The soda tax is still in committee, and could move to a vote next month. If passed, it would take effect in January.