July 18 (UPI) -- Pennsylvania's Supreme Court moved Wednesday to uphold a tax on soda and other sweetened beverages in Philadelphia.
The court issued a 4-2 majority opinion, saying the city didn't violate state law by instituting the 1.5-cents-per-ounce tax on the drinks to fund Pre-K, community schools and improvements to parks, libraries and recreation centers.
Opponents of the tax argued it amounted to double taxation, because it applied to consumers who already pay sales taxes.
Revenue in the first year of the tax also fell short of estimates by 15 percent and City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart revealed in March that most of the money collected in the first two months of 2018 went into the general fund, not specified programs.
City officials said money was being withheld as the government awaited the court's decision.
Following the ruling, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said an estimated $56 million in tax funds that had been put on hold during the litigation would now be spent on the programs.
"These programs, funded by the beverage tax, will fuel the aspirations and dreams of those who have waited too long for investments in their communities," Kenney said. "The City of Philadelphia will now proceed expeditiously with our original plans -- delayed in whole or part by nearly two years of litigation -- to fully ramp up these programs now that the legal challenge has been resolved."
The tax also added about $1 to the cost of a 2-liter bottle of soda and $2.16 to a 12-pack of 12-ounce sodas, which Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association spokesman Alex Baloga said prompted some people to purchase soda outside of the city.
"They are taking their whole cart with them, definitely shopping for other items, too, when they purchase soda elsewhere," Baloga said.
He added some stores in the city saw beverage sales fall 50 percent, and total sales 10 percent or more.
The Ax the Philly Bev Tax Coalition, which is lobbying for a bill to ban such taxes, said it was disappointed by the ruling and that the tax had resulted in the loss of 1,200 jobs.
"It is now up to our elected officials to listen to the concerns of their constituents and provide Philadelphians much needed relief by reversing this tax," spokesman Anthony Campisi said.