Cook County Beverage Tax Upheld

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Cook County Beverage Tax Upheld

By Jim Dudlicek, EnsembleIQ - 07/28/2017

A judge upheld the penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages advanced by commissioners in Cook County, Ill., which a retail trade group had sued to halt.

The decision Friday afternoon dismissing the Illinois Retail Merchants Association’s (IRMA) lawsuit, which countered that the tax was vague and unconstitutional, means that grocery and foodservice customers are expected to be charged the tax soon, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The judge also dissolved the temporary restraining order that halted implementation of the tax, which had been set to begin July 1. County officials announced the tax would now go into effect Aug. 2.

The tax makes sweetened beverage prices in Chicago and Cook suburbs among the highest in the nation, according to IllinoisPolicy.org. The tax would, for example, add 68 cents to a consumer's cost of a 2-liter bottle of pop. 

Plaintiffs, which include IRMA and several Chicago-area grocers, are weighing their options in the wake of Friday’s ruling.

“We are disappointed with the judge's ruling on Cook County's sweetened-beverage tax. We are exploring our legal options,” IRMA tweeted soon after the ruling was announced. IRMA argued that the tax is unconstitutional because it’s not uniformly applied; for example, bottled drinks are taxable, but not those hand-mixed by a barista.

Meanwhile, pro-tax groups like Healthy Food America applauded the ruling, issuing a release calling it “a big victory for improving public health and a stinging rebuke to the soda industry.”

Dr. Jim Krieger, executive director of Seattle-based Healthy Food America, said: “Sugary drink taxes work. They encourage healthy choices, raise awareness of the damage caused by these products and reduce the level of added sugars in the diet.”

But many observers saw the tax as less about public health -- it applies to calorie-free artificially sweetened beverages as well as to those containing sugar -- and more about shoring up Cook County’s bloated budget.

In a recent editorial, the Chicago Tribune called the tax “one more blatant money grab to prop up spending” by an irresponsible county government.

The tax’s opponents also pointed to Philadelphia, where a similar measure has fallen short of revenue projections and is chasing business out of the city.