Chicago sugary drink tax to take effect next week after ruling

Gladys Abbott
July 29, 2017

Cook County residents will begin paying a penny-per-ounce tax on soda and other sweetened beverages on Wednesday, August 2, according to a report from the Chicago Tribune.

Cook County Circuit Judge Daniel Kubasiak had blocked the tax on June 30, one day before it was to go into effect, after opponents filed a lawsuit claiming the tax is unconstitutionally vague, and isn't applied uniformly to the same drinks.

In a statement released following the ruling, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said the county will begin collecting the tax on August 2.

The tax was cleared for implementation Friday when a judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging the penny-per-ounce tax. Under the sweetened beverage tax, drinks in a bottle, or from a fountain machine, are taxable. "One of the main reasons I proposed the modest tax on sweetened beverages a year ago was specifically to avoid these kind of cuts". It was expected to raise $67.5 million in new revenue by November 30, according to county estimates. The county filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

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He pointed to prior court decisions which determined governments can tax similar goods and activities differently, depending on various factors, without violating the IL constitution's uniformity clause.

County attorneys had also argued that taxing custom-made beverages would put an excessive administrative burden on the county, and that taxing widely available pre-made beverages would be more effective in improving public health. The ruling offered no timeline on when the temporary restraining order would be lifted, but said that decision would be up to the county.

"It is within reason for the Court to conclude that the Ordinance sets forth sufficient grounds to find that the tax will deter some level of consumption of such sweetened beverages and will promote public health, while at the same time raise revenue for the County", Kubasiak wrote.

In response to the plaintiffs' claims that the technology needed to collect the tax would not be ready for quick implementation, Preckwinkle said the retailers should have been prepared to collect the tax a month ago. Of course, if you want to avoid the tax, you can always leave Cook County to purchase 12-packs and two-liters. The necessary information for accurate taxation here, the retailers said, would be unavailable.

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