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Council considering proposals to study, possibly amend, soda tax

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The controversial tax has given funding for Kenney’s Rebuild project

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The soda tax, which over the past year has supplied funding for Mayor Jim Kenney’s Rebuild Program, has long been wrapped up in controversy.

And now it looks like some City Council members are examining the first steps in legislation that could minimize the tax.

During a council meeting Thursday, City Council member Maria Quiñones Sánchez introduced a bill to consider amending the tax on sugary drinks, according to a statement from her office provided to Curbed Philly Monday. The bill, which is light on details, could phase out part of the tax through 2021, PlanPhilly reported last week.

Quiñones Sánchez also proposed a separate resolution to hire an independent firm to study the economic impact of the soda tax, as well as several other city taxes.

The beverage tax—which has become known more specifically as the “soda tax”—has been the subject of a lot of debate since it was passed in 2016. It levies a 1.5-cent-per-ounce increase on all sugary, non-alcoholic beverages, with original estimates saying it would raise $91 million per year over a five-year plan, according to the Kenney administration.

That money was planned to go toward several projects, primarily pre-K education and the mayor’s ambitious Rebuild program, which seeks to repair parks, libraries, and recreation centers around the city.

While many seemed supportive of the Rebuild program, the same couldn’t always be said for the funding behind it. Almost immediately after the tax was passed, the beverage industry challenged it in court. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled last summer to uphold the tax, allowing the city to move forward with its first Rebuild project following the ruling late last year.

Some have raised concerns about the effect the tax will have on local Philly businesses—a point that Quiñones-Sánchez touched on in her resolution last week when she mentioned the need to support “businesses that provide family-sustaining wages.”

“City Council has a responsibility to review and assess impacts of all revenue streams and minimize unintended conditions that negatively impact small businesses, seniors, and our most vulnerable citizens,” Quiñones-Sánchez said in a statement.

Seven council members are co-sponsoring the bill alongside Quiñones-Sánchez, including Cindy Bass, Allan Domb, Blondell Reynolds Brown, David Oh, Brian O’Neill, and Al Taubenberger. They’re also all supporters of the resolution, along with Mark Squilla, Curtis Jones, and Jannie Blackwell.