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City council and the soda tax: Where every member stands on how to fund pre-K

Council President Darrell Clarke wants to take a step back.

He says Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed sugary drinks tax is one of the most divisive issues he’s faced in the 17 years he’s served on Council and Wednesday called for local leaders to take a week and a half to seriously consider other options for funding city programs.

Several ideas for how the city should pay for programs like universal pre-K have floated around. These are the two major proposals involving taxing drinks and the like:

  1. Kenney’s administration has proposed a sugary drinks tax that would largely impact the soda industry and would be at a 3-cent-per-ounce rate. It wouldn’t apply to beverages like bottled water, milk and 100 percent fruit juices. His administration has said it’s the best way to fund programs like pre-K, community schools and the city’s ailing pension fund. Critics say the tax is regressive, but Kenney’s administration contends it’s not a tax on the poor.
  2. Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown introduced a bill that would levy a 15-cent flat tax on all drink containers, save for baby formula and milk products. She says it’s less regressive than Kenney’s tax proposal and has less of an impact on a singular industry.

There have been other revenue sources floated. Clarke would be in favor of considering another real estate tax. Councilman David Oh has proposed levying fees on ridesharing companies and drivers. And Councilman Allan Domb wants to see additional efficiencies in city government and a better system for collecting delinquent taxes.

Here’s where each member of council stands at this point:

District council members

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City Council

Council President Darrell Clarke

Where he represents: District 5 – Parts of North Philly, Fairmount, Fishtown, Kensington, Strawberry Mansion and Center City

Party: Democrat

Where he stands on the sugary drinks tax: Council President Clarke, maybe the most powerful person in city government, has made it clear he’s not in favor of a three-cents-per-ounce soda tax, saying: “The three cents that the mayor proposed is clearly not something that I think is needed.” Instead, he’s proposed reducing the cost of pre-K by funding less seats but having the School District of Philadelphia be responsible for creating them. Kenney has pushed back against that proposal, saying the school district isn’t interested in running an expanded pre-K program and “They’re having trouble running what they have.”

Clarke said during a budget hearing Wednesday that he wants to see a new, “broader-based” solution to funding pre-K that’s not “just taxing poor people.” He’s said he’d back a real estate tax over the current proposals.

Where he stands on the container tax: Clarke seems intrigued by the idea of passing a container tax, and though he acknowledged it would bring in less revenue than Kenney’s sugary drinks tax, it would be “broader.”

“I think it’s quite an interesting idea for the city of Philadelphia,” he said, according to Newsworks. “I concur with (Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown)’s notion that the universal nature of the proposals be it pre-K or recreation centers and libraries across the city are clearly citywide. I think having a sense that the tax should in fact be a tax that is broader in terms of the revenue sources.”

How to get in touch with his office: (215) 686-3442 and (215) 686-3443

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City Council

Majority Leader Bobby Henon

Where he represents: District 6 – Parts of Port Richmond, Tacony, Frankford, Mayfair, Holmesburg and Northeast Philly

Party: Democrat

Where he stands on the sugary drinks tax: Henon was one of the OG soda tax cheerleaders. He nearly proposed the idea himself last year during budget negotiations and has made it clear he supports the sugary drinks tax.

Where he stands on the container tax: Because of his firm support of the sugary drinks tax, he seems to be against the container tax proposal. He was one of the first members of Council to question the proposal, raising the point that the alternative would bring in some $30 million less than the mayor’s proposal.

“The introduction of the container tax proposal made the myth of the grocery tax a reality,” Henon said. “The container tax touches nearly every drink on your grocery store shelves. Compared to the sugar-sweetened beverage tax, this tax will be impossible to avoid.”

How to get in touch with his office: (215) 686-3444 and (215) 686-3445

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City Council

Minority Leader Brian O’Neill

Where he represents: District 10 – Parts of Northeast Philly

Party: Republican

Where he stands on the sugary drinks tax: O’Neill said just after Kenney’s budget proposal that he wouldn’t support a sugary drinks tax and was part of the effort to strike down a previously proposed tax similar to Kenney’s.

Where he stands on the container tax: The councilman said he would favor a container tax over Kenney’s sugary drinks tax proposal, but he told The Inquirer that he’d vote for it at a 5-cent rate rather than Reynolds Brown’s 15-cent rate.

How to get in touch with his office: (215) 686-3422 and (215) 686-3423

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Councilman Mark Squilla

Where he represents: District 1 – Parts of South Philly east of Broad Street, Pennsport, Old City, Society Hill, Northern Liberties, Fishtown, Kensington and Port Richmond

Party: Democrat

Where he stands on the sugary drinks tax: Squilla has said he’s largely undecided on the sugary drinks tax proposal and has questioned if the administration can find a way to create a hybrid tax that would have less of an impact on one industry.

Where he stands on the container tax: The councilman seems open to considering Reynolds Brown’s container tax proposal. But he questioned whether such a measure should include alcohol containers, which currently aren’t included as part of the tax.

How to get in touch with his office: (215) 686-3458 and (215) 686-3459

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Councilman Kenyatta Johnson

Where he represents: District 2 – Parts of Center City, Graduate Hospital, Point Breeze, Grays Ferry, South Philly west of Broad Street and Southwest Philly

Party: Democrat

Where he stands on the sugary drinks tax: Johnson hasn’t said one way or the other if he’d support Kenney’s sugary drinks tax, and it seems like he’s on the fence.

“We’ve been getting feedback from both sides of the issue,” he told The Philadelphia Tribune. “We have had some people who have expressed that they don’t want to have a tax on groceries, and we also have people that have called and said they want to make sure we stop the daycare–to–prison pipeline by supporting pre–K.

“I’m still waiting for all the details on the proposal from the administration to see how it impacts the business industry, but also how it impacts those neighborhood daycare centers, making sure that, if you are going to support daycare centers, that neighborhood daycares are the number one priority.”

Where he stands on the container tax: It’s unclear where Johnson stands on Reynolds Brown’s container tax proposal.

How to get in touch with his office: (215) 686-3412 and (215) 686-3413

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City Council

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell

Where she represents: District 3 – Parts of West and Southwest Philadelphia

Party: Democrat

Where she stands on the sugary drinks tax: Blackwell, though she’s a fierce advocate for public education, has publicly stated that she’s against the sugary drinks tax and thinks it’s regressive in a way that will disproportionately impact residents in her district.

Where she stands on the container tax: After Reynolds Brown introduced her container tax plan, Blackwell said she’d be open to considering it.

“We’ll keep our eyes open to look at everything, which we should,” she told Philly Mag, “and we’ll see what happens.”

How to get in touch with her office: (215) 686-3418 and (215) 686-3419

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City Council

Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr.

Where he represents: District 4 – Parts of Roxborough, Manayunk, Overbrook, Northwest and West Philly

Party: Democrat

Where he stands on the sugary drinks tax: Jones supported the sugary drinks tax last time it was proposed and seems to be in favor of it again this time around. He’s been critical of council members who have bowed to lobbyists for soda companies.

“By the time a couple of those Council people, who will remain nameless, got to their seats to take the vote, the lobbyists had consumed them,” Jones said, according to the Inquirer, “like wildebeests being attacked by lions on the way to graze.”

Where he stands on the container tax: He called out the container tax during a budget hearing Wednesday, saying he doesn’t understand why the sugary drinks tax has been branded a “grocery tax” while the container tax hasn’t. He seems to be more in favor of a sugary drinks tax, but suggested a hybrid tax model that combined both.

How to get in touch with his office: (215) 686-3416 and (215) 686-3417

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City Council

Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez

Where she represents: District 7 – Parts of North Philly including Hunting Park, Kensington and Frankford

Party: Democrat

Where she stands on the sugary drinks tax: The councilwoman is firmly against the sugary drinks tax as proposed, as she says it’s regressive and will lead to job loss in her district. She said during a budget hearing Wednesday that the city is “using children” to back up “bad policy,” noting that she’s concerned consumers in her district will face high taxes on beverages, especially when purchased in bulk because the tax is on a per-ounce basis.

Where she stands on the container tax: Quiñones-Sánchez has said she would support a container tax.

How to get in touch with her office: (215) 686-3448 and (215) 686-3449

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Councilwoman Cindy Bass

Where she represents: District 8 – Parts of Northwest Philly, Germantown and North Philly

Party: Democrat

Where she stands on the sugary drinks tax: Bass has posted serious questions about the tax, asking for further analysis on how the tax would impact small businesses and low-income consumers, according to The Inquirer.

“What it sounds like we’re saying is, OK, we’re going to make sure we get the resources our young people desperately need,” she said, “but also what we’re saying is the population that’s primarily going to pay for it is our most vulnerable populations.”

Where she stands on the container tax: It’s not clear exactly where Bass stands on the container tax. But she has proposed alternate sources of revenue and wants Council to hold hearings on how the city can better enforce its liquor-by-the-drink tax that’s already in place.

How to get in touch with her office: (215) 686-3424 and (215) 686-3425

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City Council

Councilwoman Cherelle Parker

Where she represents: District 9 – Parts of North and Northwest Philly

Party: Democrat

Where she stands on the sugary drinks tax: Parker has questioned the follow-through on Kenney’s proposed sugary drinks tax and wants to ensure the equitable roll-out of pre-K before supporting a new tax.

“How the implementation of universal pre–K will be rolled out in neighborhoods across the city is a concern,” Parker said. “I know my goal and the messages I have heard from my constituents is that, as council moves forward with budget negotiations, we have to ensure that no child is left behind in any neighborhood in the city of Philadelphia in this process.”

Where she stands on the container tax: It’s unclear if Parker would be more inclined to support a container tax over Kenney’s sugary drinks tax proposal.

How to get in touch with her office: (215) 686-3454 and (215) 686-3455

At-large council members

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Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown

Where she represents: The entire city

Party: Democrat

Where she stands on the sugary drinks tax: Reynolds Brown had major concerns about Kenney’s tax proposal, leading her to introduce the container tax, which she says is less regressive and less likely to impact one industry. She expressed concerns the administration couldn’t ensure the tax would fall on the distributor and not be passed onto consumers.

Where she stands on the container tax: It’s safe to say Reynolds Brown is in favor of the 15-cent container tax idea, as she’s the one who proposed it. “This tax needs to be shared by all, from soda to Perrier,” she told CBS Philly. She’s emphasized the tax would not apply to baby formula and milk products, but would apply to water, fruit juices and the like.

How to get in touch with her office: (215) 686-3438 and (215) 686-3439

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City Council

Councilman Allan Domb

Where he represents: The entire city

Party: Democrat

Where he stands on the sugary drinks tax: Domb is a high-profile developer and is affiliated with top restauranteur Stephen Starr, but he’s promised to keep his business interests aside and vote for a proposal that’s best for the city. He hasn’t expressed explicit support for Kenney’s tax proposal, but he has said it may be most efficient at a 1.5-cent-per-ounce rate.

During a budget hearing Wednesday he said he’d like to see additional commitment to budgetary efficiencies before the city levies new taxes. Domb has already teamed up with the administration to offer a new plan for collecting delinquent taxes.

Where he stands on the container tax: It’s unclear if Domb would support a container tax over Kenney’s sugary drinks tax.

How to get in touch with his office: (215) 686-3414 and (215) 686-3415

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City Council

Councilman Derek Green

Where he represents: The entire city

Party: Democrat

Where he stands on the sugary drinks tax: Improving access to top-notch education was a priority for Green when he ran for office last year, and he’s expressed interest in weighing a number of options to bring in additional revenue to fund pre-K programming. He hasn’t expressly supported or shot down Kenney’s proposal, saying the administration has been “forthcoming” and he wants to ensure the money raised goes to exactly where it was intended to.

Where he stands on the container tax: It’s not yet clear if Green would be more inclined to support a container tax over Kenney’s tax proposal.

How to get in touch with his office: (215) 686-3450 and (215) 686-3451

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City Council

Councilman Bill Greenlee

Where he represents: The entire city

Party: Democrat

Where he stands on the sugary drinks tax: Greenlee hasn’t expressly said he wouldn’t support Kenney’s sugary drinks tax proposal, but he has seemed to favor exploring other sources of revenue.

Where he stands on the container tax: Based on his questioning during City Council budget hearings, it appears Greenlee is in favor of a container tax over Kenney’s sugary drinks tax. But what he’s definitely against? Another real estate tax.

“Most of us, me included, are very, very, very, very, very reluctant to consider that,” he told KYW. “Was that enough verys?”

How to get in touch with his office: (215) 686-3446 and (215) 686-3447

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City Council

Councilwoman Helen Gym

Where she represents: The entire city

Party: Democrat

Where she stands on the sugary drinks tax: Gym, a fierce advocate for public education who’s a large supporter of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (which favors the tax), appears to be in Kenney’s corner on this one. While some council members have floated a sugary drinks tax at a lower rate than Kenney’s proposal, Gym has stressed that any reduction could mean less pre-K seats for kids.

Where she stands on the container tax: The councilwoman said during a budget hearing Wednesday that she appreciated Reynolds Brown’s attempts to add more revenue stream choices for Council to consider.

How to get in touch with her office: (215) 686-3420 and (215) 686-3421

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City Council

Councilman David Oh

Where he represents: The entire city

Party: Republican

Where he stands on the sugary drinks tax: Oh has said he’s interested in exploring alternate sources of revenue, but has expressed concerns about the pre-K program itself.

“I’m not convinced at this point in time, although I am open-minded, about the pre-K program,” Oh said, according to Philly Mag. “So while there are people who are very satisfied with the pre-K program, and it is an important program, I don’t know what it is. And I certainly would like to know. I know it’s not universal, because we can’t afford it, and I don’t know what the curriculum is. I’d like to know what the curriculum is.”

Where he stands on the container tax: It’s not clear if Oh would prefer a container tax over a sugary drinks tax, but he’s offered his own revenue proposal in levying fees on ride-sharing companies and those who drive for them.

How to get in touch with his office: (215) 686-3452 and (215) 686-3453

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City Council

Councilman Al Taubenberger

Where he represents: The entire city

Party: Republican

Where he stands on the sugary drinks tax: Taubenberger has said he’s against a sugary drinks tax because “it’s bad to focus on just one industry.” He was one of several council members who appeared at a rally against Kenney’s proposal.

Where he stands on the container tax: The councilman told The Inquirer he would be open to considering a container tax.

How to get in touch with his office: (215) 686-3440 and (215) 686-3441

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