Phoenix keeps 2% food tax -- for now

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PHOENIX -- The Phoenix City Council voted Tuesday to keep the controversial 2 percent food tax in place.

The tax is due to expire in 2015, but opponents would like to see it repealed before then.

Hundreds of people packed the City Council Chambers for Tuesday's meeting. Most of them were urging the Council to keep the food tax in an effort to avoid cuts to public safety and city services and program.

The tax, which has been the center of debate since before it went into effect in April 2010, generates about $50 million annually.

According to outgoing Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, most of that money goes to public safety, as well as funding a variety of programs for seniors, children and parks.

The vote to keep the tax came after about two hours of debate and testimony.

Thelda Williams suggested the city come up with a way to repeal the tax by July. Although Sal DiCicco, an outspoken critic of the tax, Jim Waring and Bill Gates vote with her, Williams did not have the required five of nine votes.

Supporters said there isn't a solid plan in place to replace the $50 million in revenue brought in by the tax. One idea that has been floated is a so-called "sin tax" on adult businesses, tobacco and the like. Because of potential legal issues, that idea has been shelved for the moment.

Proponents also said holding off on a repeal will allow more public discussion as the budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which begins on July 1, is put together. Those against the food tax say there was not enough public discussion before the tax was implemented.

Gordon, Michael Johnson, Claude Mattox, Michael Nowakowski and Tom Simplot all voted to leave the tax as it is now.

The City Council probably will not take another look at the hot-button issue until after the new mayor, who will be elected in the Nov. 8 runoff election, is sworn into office. That will happen in January.