Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Soda Tax Has No Local Pop Philadelphia's Tax Upheld in Court but Has Little Appeal Here

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Soda Tax Has No Local Pop Philadelphia's Tax Upheld in Court but Has Little Appeal Here

Article excerpt

Philadelphia's controversial soda tax landed a victory last week from the state Supreme Court, but don't expect Pittsburgh - or any other Pennsylvania cities - to impose similar levies any time soon.

That's largely because Philadelphia, classified as the only first-class city in Pennsylvania, has broad taxing powers compared to those of other municipalities, according to legal observers. Enacting a hypothetical soda tax in Western Pennsylvania would require specific authorization from the state General Assembly, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said.

The same goes for a host of theoretical taxes, said Mr. Fitzgerald, a longtime advocate for more varied taxing authority at the local level. Municipal governments rely heavily on property and earned income taxes to fuel their budgets.

"Any [options] that we have come from Harrisburg," Mr. Fitzgerald said Friday. He would "love to be able to lower people's property taxes, and I would do that" by diversifying revenues to the county government, he said.

Even if a soda-tax option were available, it's not clear it would have political momentum in the Pittsburgh area. Philadelphia City Council passed the 1.5-cent-per-ounce levy - no state approval necessary - in June 2016, becoming the first major city in the United States to set a tax on soda and other sweetened beverages.

But Bruce Kraus, the city council president in Pittsburgh, said he has "no interest in exploring" a soda tax. Mayor Bill Peduto said he isn't considering the idea, either.

"It would have to be for a specific use," Mr. Peduto said. "Right now, our revenues are strong. We've been able to have a fund balance every year for the past five years."

If Pittsburgh were to have a specific function for the tax, "then we would look at it," he said.

Philadelphia generated nearly $79 million from its soda tax in 2017, tagging the money for schools, parks, playgrounds and libraries. …

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