Mayor Kenney’s 3-cents-an-ounce soda tax will be up for an initial vote in City Council on Wednesday.
The controversial tax, first proposed by the mayor in early March, would help the city pay for programs that would include universal pre-kindergarten.
In his budget address, Kenney proposed a $256 million investment to help create 25,000 high-quality pre-K seats over the next five years. He also wants to create 25 community schools in his first term, and $39 million from the soda tax revenue would go toward that project.
The mayor also proposes to allocate funds to improve libraries, parks, and recreation centers across the city. Overall, he projected that the tax could fund $400 million in new projects over five years.
For the proposed tax to pass, the mayor must get nine votes from the 17-seat Council.
Council President Darrell Clarke and other Council members, including Al Taubenberger, have already expressed reservations about the tax on sugary drinks, arguing that 3 cents is too high and that people will just travel outside the city to purchase the beverages.
Versions of the tax proposal were twice shut down under former Mayor Michael Nutter, and the proposal has also been criticized as being regressive. Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders has argued that the tax would disproportionately hit low-income families. He urged the city to tax the rich, but that solution ignores Pennsylvania’s uniformity clause, which courts have said bans a graduated taxation system.
Since Kenney announced his plan, City Council has tinkered with a number of amendments or alternatives, including a 2-cent reduction to 1 cent per ounce and a proposal for a 15-cent tax on select beverage containers.
Supporters of the tax include City Council member Helen Gym and majority leader Bobby Henon, who say Kenney’s renewed energy for this proposal gives it a chance.
"There's clear consensus that more access to pre-K is the right thing for Philadelphia. I hope they do the right thing for this city," said Anne Gemmell, who heads the city's pre-K office.
Community groups have also voiced concern about the alternative bills proposed by City Council, saying that a reduction in the tax, for example, would not help the city attain the number of high quality pre-K seats that it needs.