Well over two years after Philadelphia's controversial tax on sweetened beverages distributed for retail sale within the city's limits first went into effect in January 2017, the Philadelphia Inquirer has conducted what it describes as the "first independent polling done about the tax". Here's a short summary of the results of its survey of registered voters in Philadelphia:
- 62% describe the soda tax as either a failure or as a complete failure.
- 55% want to see the tax repealed.
It's not surprising that roughly five out of eight Philadelphians view the city's soda tax as a failure. The Philadelphia Beverage Tax has chronically fallen short of the desired level of revenue that city officials were counting upon to fund pre-Kindergarten and community school programs and also to fund repairs and improvements to city-owned parks, recreation centers, and libraries. The following chart shows how far short the city's annual tax collections from its soda tax have fallen below its original revenue projections.
In 2017, Wharton Business School Professor of Finance and Public Policy Robert Inman declared the Philadelphia Beverage Tax could be considered a success if it collected as little as 85% to 90% of the city's original annual revenue target of $92.4 million. It has clearly failed to pass that very low threshold for success during the first two years it has been in effect.
Beyond its fiscal failure, tax opponents have argued that the soda tax creates some really perverse incentives for city residents who support these programs, who must either choose to purchase and consume beverages perceived to be unhealthy or accept the programs they want will be starved of funds. We believe the twisted and hypocritical logic that tax supporters have used to justify the soda tax contributes to the widespread public perception of the tax's failure.
The Inquirer poll reveals that Philadelphians really do want the things that the city's 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on naturally and artificially-sweetened beverages were meant to fund, with many indicating a willingness to dedicate other tax revenues to pay for them. The city's mayor, Jim Kenney, and several city council officials oppose the repeal of the Philadelphia Beverage Tax.
The tax will be an issue in the upcoming primary election for city mayor and city council positions in the heavily Democratic party-controlled city on 21 May 2019.
Previously on Political Calculations
We've been covering the story of Philadelphia's flawed soda tax on roughly a monthly basis from almost the very beginning, where our coverage began as something of a natural extension from one of the stories we featured as part of our Examples of Junk Science Series. The linked list below will take you through all our in-near-real-time analysis of the impact of the tax, which at this writing, has still to reach its end. For a general history of Philadelphia's soda tax, check out the Philadelphia Inquirer's timeline.
- Examples of Junk Science: Taxing Treats
- Philadelphia Soda Tax Crushes Soft Drink Sales
- The Tax Incidence and Deadweight Loss of Philadelphia's Soda Tax
- Philadelphia's Soda Tax Collections Are Falling Short
- Philly's Soda Tax Collections Continue to Fall Short of Goals
- Jobs Gained and Lost from Philadelphia's Soda Tax
- Philadelphia Soda Sales Volume Down 34% Since Tax
- Philadelphia Soda Tax to Shrink City's Economy by $20 Million
- Big Miss for Philadelphia's Beverage Tax
- Odds and Ends for Philadelphia's Soda Tax
- Legal Jeopardy for Philadelphia's Soda Tax
- Soda Tax Driving Philadelphians To Drink?
- Philadelphia Soda Tax Collections Start Fiscal Year in Deep Hole
- Philadelphia Soda Tax Collections Continues Falling Flat
- A Natural Experiment for Philadelphia's Soda Tax
- Philadelphia Soda Tax $20 Million Short with One Month to Go in First Year
- Philadelphia Soda Tax Falls 15% Short of Target
- Philadelphia Mayor Scales Back Soda Tax Ambitions
- Philadelphia Soda Tax Boosts City's Alcohol Sales
- Philadelphia Soda Tax Collections Falling Further Short in Year 2
- Philadelphia Soda Tax Underperforming Lowered Expectations
- PA Supreme Court Rules Philly Soda Tax Legal
- Philadelphians Sure Drink a Lot More Alcohol Since the City's Soda Tax Was Imposed
- Philly's Soda Tax Impact on City's Calorie Consumption
- Tax Avoidance and the Philadelphia Soda Tax
- Philadelphia Rebuild Paying Price for Soda Tax Shortfalls
- Philadelphia's Soda Tax Isn't Working
- Hits Keep Piling Up Against Philadelphia Soda Tax
- Especially Perverse Outcomes from Two Years of Philadelphia's Soda Tax
There are still aspects of the story we plan to develop, including the impact of the tax on city retailers and beverage distributors, several of whom have opened their books to the media during the past two years. We'll also get back to where our coverage started to review what two years of scientific study has determined about the effectiveness of soda taxes in reducing obesity rates, which are the main benefit claimed by soda tax supporters for imposing this particular kind of "sin" tax.