Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Pennsylvania Supreme Court to hear soda tax case

Laura McCrystal reports for

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court said Tuesday that it will consider the legality of Philadelphia’s tax on soda and other sweetened beverages, giving fresh hope to opponents of the controversial levy.

The court said it would hear the American Beverage Association and other local businesses’ appeal of a Commonwealth Court decision last year to uphold the controversial tax. The rest of the country will be watching the outcome. Philadelphia became the first major U.S. city to pass a tax on soda in 2016, and a number of other cities have since considered or implemented similar taxes.

Justices will weigh whether the 1.5-cent-per-ounce levy amounts to a double tax. Pennsylvania law prohibits the city from imposing a levy on something already taxed by the state. The tax is imposed on distributors, but lawyers representing the beverage industry and local retailers argued that the levy is being passed on to consumers, who already pay sales tax.

Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty,  younger brother of John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, business manager for Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, recused himself from the case. He was elected to the high court in 2015 with help from Local 98, and John Dougherty has been a vocal supporter of Mayor Kenney and the city’s beverage tax. Kevin Dougherty also received more than $50,000 in campaign contributions from local soda mogul Harold Honickman, an opponent of the tax.

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