County of­fi­cials vote to re­peal Chicago-area soda tax

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - BUSINESS -

CHICAGO » The Chicago-area’s penny-per-ounce tax on soda and sweet­ened drinks was re­pealed Wednesday after a month­s­long con­flict that in­cluded a court bat­tle and mil­lions of dol­lars’ worth of tele­vi­sion ads on both sides.

The Cook County Board voted 15-2 to end the tax start­ing Dec. 1. The vote came just more than two months after the tax took ef­fect Aug. 2.

The tax prompted law­suits, a warn­ing from a fed­eral agency that Illi­nois could lose mil­lions in fund­ing for food stamp ben­e­fits and com­plaints of plum­met­ing sales from store own­ers. But among its sup­port­ers were health ad­vo­cates such as bil­lion­aire Michael Bloomberg, whose su­per PAC ran more than $2 mil­lion worth of ads de­fend­ing the tax as a way to fight obe­sity and other health con­di­tions.

Cook County, which in­cludes Chicago, be­came the largest ju­ris­dic­tion in the U.S. to en­act the tax on sug­ary and ar­ti­fi­cially sweet­ened bev­er­ages when the board ap­proved it in Novem­ber with Board Pres­i­dent Toni Preck­win­kle as the de­cid­ing vote. It ap­plies not just to soda, but also to sports drinks, iced tea and lemon­ade, and comes on top of bev­er­age taxes im­posed by Illi­nois and Chicago.

Wednesday’s fi­nal vote came after a sim­i­lar fi­nance com­mit­tee vote Tues­day. Preck­win­kle said in a state­ment after Tues­day’s vote that

she was “dis­ap­pointed.” The Illi­nois Pub­lic Health In­sti­tute and Illi­nois Al­liance to Pre­vent Obe­sity said in a joint state­ment that it was a “bad deal” for tax­pay­ers who will have to pay for ris­ing health care costs re­lated to drink­ing too many sug­ary bev­er­ages.

Some re­tail­ers op­posed to the tax posted signs in the soda aisle telling cus­tomers they will pay $1.44 more on each 12-pack of soda be­cause of the tax, and urg­ing them to tell their county com­mis­sioner to re­peal it. The Illi­nois Re­tail Mer­chants As­so­ci­a­tion, which un­suc­cess­fully sued to try to stop the tax, called the re­peal “great news for con­sumers and re­tail­ers.”

Preck­win­kle has said re­peal could mean bud­get cuts and lay­offs.

After Wednesday’s vote, Preck­win­kle in­di­cated she wouldn’t be tak­ing the lead in ad­just­ing the county’s fi­nances.

“I as­sume those com­mis­sion­ers who are in­ter­ested in (al­ter­nate) rev­enue will come for­ward with ideas,” she said.

Preck­win­kle and com­mis­sion­ers will have to de­cide how they will fill an ap­prox­i­mate $200 mil­lion bud­get hole that the tax would have sat­is­fied. They have un­til Nov. 30 to ap­prove a bud­get.

AP PHOTO BY SARA BUR­NETT FILE

In this Aug. 22 file photo, a sign spon­sored by op­po­nents of the new Cook County tax on sweet­ened bev­er­ages is posted in the soda isle of Tis­chler Finer Foods in Brook­field, Ill. The Cook County board’s fi­nance com­mit­tee voted Wednesday to re­peal the un­pop­u­lar penny-per-ounce tax on sweet­ened bev­er­ages in the Chicago area.

AP PHOTO/M. SPENCER GREEN, FIL

In this Jan. 26, 2012 file photo, Cook County Board Pres­i­dent Toni Preck­win­kle speaks at a news con­fer­ence in Chicago. Cook County of­fi­cials are ex­pected to take a ma­jor step Tues­day, Oct. 10, 2017, to­ward re­peal­ing a Chicago-area tax on sweet­ened bev­er­ages. The board’s fi­nance com­mit­tee will vote on a mea­sure to re­peal the un­pop­u­lar penny-per­ounce tax. Preck­win­kle cast the de­cid­ing vote to ap­prove the tax. She ar­gues it will make res­i­dents health­ier and raise enough money to bal­ance the county’s bud­get.

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