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City Attributes Delays to Park Projects to Lawsuit

Philadelphia’s proposed park projects are being delayed by the lawsuit against the sweetened beverage tax, according to the city.

When the controversial sweetened beverage tax was introduced Mayor Jim Kenney said that the money raised from the tax would go into programs to help improve the city, including helping the parks system.

“First and foremost, this tax is about empowering our city to move full speed ahead toward a better Philadelphia,” said Kenney in a press release in November 2016.

The city proposed bills to make $300 million available for the park rebuilds through bonds on March, but that money will not be able to be used until the lawsuit regarding the sweetened beverage tax is resolved.

“In the past, the City has successfully partnered with non-profit stakeholders to launch and operate large-scale infrastructure improvements like Rebuild,” said Councilman At-Large Derek Green in a press release in March.

The city was able to go forward with some of its education initiatives proposed by the tax and see some results at the beginning of April, despite the delays, but the initiative for the parks is still on hold. Despite the hold, Kenney was still positive about the direction of the effort to rebuild the parks.

“I’m glad to present these bills to advance Rebuild, as the urgency of needs for our parks, recreation centers and libraries increases,” said Kenney in the press release relating to the bills. “These ordinances are a result of a partnership with City Council and a shared commitment to making our city’s public spaces better for all Philadelphians and reaching our goals for diversity and economic opportunity.”

Those projects haven’t got off to the start they had hoped to and Kenney has laid the delays of those projects at the feet of the American Beverage Association’s lawsuit against the tax. The ABA initially filed the lawsuit against the tax in September and the tax was eventually upheld, but the ABA have taken the tax back to an appellate court arguing that the initial ruling by a Common Pleas Court should be overturned.

The court case was filed back in September when the ABA claimed that the tax was unconstitutional. Despite it losing the case in December, they brought it back to the appellate court. That trial began in Pittsburgh in early April, but there has not been a verdict, therefore keeping the funding from the tax going to the parks on hold.

While the city has pushed a study on Berkeley, California’s similar soda tax published at the University of North Carolina that stated that similar taxes “may be effective in shifting consumers to purchase healthier beverages without causing undue economic hardship and while raising revenue for social objectives,” the tax has been pretty unpopular since it was introduced. The main benefits were the improvements to the city, such as funds for education, the parks and recreational department, and pensions. If projects such as the park one continue to be put on hold the tax could continue to be seen as bad and continue to be unpopular.

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