Cook County Beverage Tax Appears Doomed
Chicago-area consumers and retailers may be in for some relief as the backlash against Cook County’s penny-per-ounce sweetened beverage tax appears headed for repeal.
Enough county commissioners have signed on to repeal the tax -- including at least three who previously supported it -- to withstand a veto by Board President Toni Preckwinkle, a staunch supporter of the measure whose tie-breaking vote led to its activation, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Successful committee and board repeal votes the week of Oct. 9 means the tax would disappear by Dec. 1.
Preckwinkle has touted the tax as the best way to plug holes in Cook County’s budget while raising revenue to support health programs. Since the tax took effect in August, after a month delay following a legal challenge by retailers, former New York City mayor and health advocate Michael Bloomberg has spent millions on TV spots defending the tax as a way to fight childhood obesity.
Additionally, Preckwinkle threatened to seek damages from the groups challenging the tax to collect the revenues lost during the month delay, but withdrew after being admonished by a judge who noted such a precedent would have a chilling effect in future attempts to challenge new taxes.
An intense public backlash against the tax, along with a counter-campaign by industry trade groups whose members noted significant drops in business after the tax took effect, apparently changed enough minds among county commissioners. Many county residents, along with local media, branded the tax as a cash grab by fiscally irresponsible county officials.
Beverage taxes in other cities, including Berkeley, Calif., and Philadelphia, have withstood similar challenges.