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Philadelphia City Council Set To Pass Soda Tax

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A can of Coca-Cola, Pepsi, or ice tea could soon cost a bit more in Philadelphia. It's poised to become the first major U.S. city to pass a soda tax. From member station WHYY, Katie Colaneri reports.

KATIE COLANERI, BYLINE: After months of debate and a day of tense negotiations, a Philadelphia City Council committee voted last night in favor of a 1-and-a-half-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks. That's lower than the 3 cents per ounce originally floated. In a twist, the council decided to tax diet drinks too.

The compromise helped to get some council members onboard who were concerned that the burden would fall hardest on Philadelphia's poorest residents. Still, just before the vote, Council President Darrell Clarke acknowledged the deal wouldn't please everyone.

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DARRELL CLARKE: The action that we will take will probably have some people - a sour taste in their mouths, but we believe that working with those individuals on the long-term basis - we will ensure that this will be a fair and equitable solution.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) No more taxes. No more taxes. No more taxes.

COLANERI: Hours before the decision, hundreds the critics protested outside city hall, including members of the local Teamsters union which represents people who work in soda bottling plants and drive delivery trucks. Union leader Daniel Grace warned his members the tax could threaten their jobs and hit their wallets.

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DANIEL GRACE: This tax will be passed on to the Philadelphia citizens who are already among the highest-taxed citizens in the country. Enough already.

(CHEERING)

COLANERI: The taxes faced fierce opposition from the soda industry. The American Beverage Association poured more than $4 million into an ad campaign. On the pro-tax side, about a million dollars came in part from wealthy former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who failed to pass a ban on oversized sodas as a public health measure.

Philadelphia's mayor, Jim Kenney, didn't argue health. Instead he pushed the roughly $90 million a year in revenue that could be put to popular projects.

JIM KENNEY: People understand pre-K. They understand community schools. They understand that their parks, recreation centers and libraries need to be restored.

COLANERI: Other American cities are watching closely. Berkley, Calif., passed a sugary drinks tax in 2014, and similar measures are on the ballot in San Francisco, Oakland and Boulder, Colo., this fall. Philadelphia's city council takes its final vote next week. For NPR News, I'm Katie Colaneri. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.