Future of food tax on the City Council's agenda Tuesday

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PHOENIX -- The Phoenix City Council will tackle the future of the controversial food tax at its meeting Tuesday afternoon.

The unpopular food tax went into effect in April 2010 and is scheduled to expire in 2015. Many people, including some City Council members, would like to see that 2 percent tax repealed before then.

Five out of nine votes are needed to get rid of the food tax at Tuesday's meeting. While Bill Gates, Jim Waring, Sal DiCiccio and Thelda Williams have supported ending the tax early, it looks like they are one vote short of making that happen.

Should they ax the food tax, some City Council members say they will need to come up with a way to replace the $50 million it generates annually.

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, who is wrapping up his term in office, has suggested a so-called sin tax, which would apply to things like tobacco, tattoo parlors, strip clubs, liquor stores, adult businesses and the like.

Opinions on such a tax have been as split as those on the food tax. There's also concern that a sin tax could violate Arizona's Constitution or the First Amendment.

Gordon said the food tax was a temporary measure to deal with a massive budget gap that might have cost jobs. He said 70 percent of that revenue "goes to public safety -- police and fire -- so we wouldn't have to lay off firemen, firewomen and police officers at a time when crime is starting to rise again …."

"All of the other cities around Phoenix have the same food tax," Gordon continued Tuesday morning. "We had it years ago and got rid of it when the revenue was sufficient."

That was in the 1980s.

Opponents of the food tax, including DiCiccio, say the public was lied to about where the money was going, pointing out that $30 million funded pay raises for some city employees.

"The public was lied to from the beginning," DiCiccio told 3TV's Javier Soto in September. "This scandal needs to come to an end."

Gordon said the raises were part of contracts that had already been established, contracts for which DiCiccio voted. He called DiCiccio's vocal opposition of the food tax a political maneuver.

"This is a very political year and Councilman DiCiccio has found an issue to be political and have some attention focused to it," Gordon said, going on to say that the food-tax money also helped programs for seniors, children and parks.

Gordon said he's not necessarily against doing away with the food tax before its built-in expiration.

"I just don't want to cut $50 million out of the budget …," he said.

The City Council meeting starts at 2 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, 200 W. Jefferson Street.