NFIB Legal Center Joins in Call for Invalidation of Philadelphia’s Illegal Soda Tax

Date: February 22, 2017

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When New York City enacted its controversial prohibition on the sale of large soda drinks, NFIB joined with other concerned industry groups to take a stand for consumer choice. Ultimately, we played an important role (as amicus) in helping to defeat New York’s nanny-state regulation because we were concerned it would serve as a model for other jurisdictions. And indeed, though we won that battle, we’re now fighting a similar issue in Philadelphia, where a municipal ordinance imposes a tax on the distribution of soda.

But this is about something bigger than sugary drinks. This is all part of our fight against municipal balkanization of taxing and regulatory standards. In fact, in recent years, we’ve waded into many cases challenging the regulatory and taxing powers of municipal authorities. For example, last spring we filed in a similar case challenging the City of Pittsburg’s authority to impose a paid sick-leave ordinance. In that case, our concern was that Pittsburgh was paving the way for a whole patchwork of inconsistent regulatory standards at the local level. And of course, similar issues are raised in the context of this suit challenging Philadelphia’s taxing authority.

It’s not just that we are concerned about the specific tax at issue—it’s the precedent that matters here. If Philadelphia can tax sugary drinks, then it can tax any product (or possibly service) that the City may disfavor. And if Philadelphia can impose a broad array of taxes on goods (and or services), then other local authorities may seek to do the same throughout Pennsylvania.

And while some might argue that it’s better to allow local authorities greater powers to set local policies, the reality is that this sort of thinking generally invites only more red-tape—more taxes, more regulation, more trouble—for small business. To be sure, small business owners have enough to worry about, just keeping up with federal and state standards, without having to worry about added burdens that may hurt their business at the local level.

Stay tuned for further updates on our work in combating municipal over-reach on the NFIB Legal Center Blog.

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