SODA TAX FIZZLES IN CHICAGO AREA
Levy is repealed following backlash over sales, health
A Chicago-area soda tax went flat Wednesday, potentially putting the future of similar measures across the U.S. in jeopardy following a bitter clash between the soda industry, public officials and public health advocates.
A Cook County board committee voted 15-2 to repeal the penny-per-ounce tax after a backlash from store owners, drink companies and bottlers. Cook County includes Chicago and many suburban areas.
Supporters warned the decision would leave a $200 million hole in the county’s 2018 fiscal year budget beginning Dec. 1. They also defended the tax as a way to reduce consumption of unhealthy sugary beverages.
Opponents hailed the tax’s demise, saying it did not accomplish its stated goal of combating obesity and instead hurt low-income consumers.
“This shows that momentum is swinging against beverage taxes,” said William Dermody, vice president of media and public affairs at the American Beverage Association, which represents soda companies and fought the measure. “Beverage taxes are really a money grab that has nothing to do with public health.”
The American Heart Association accused soda companies of slinging “false claims” to mislead commissioners into repealing the tax. Repeal “protects beverage industry profits at the expense of kids and families,” American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said in a statement.
Cook County was the sixth U.S. municipality to tax sweetened drinks, joining the likes of Philadelphia, Berkeley, Calif., and Boulder, Colo. San Francisco and Seattle are set to impose similar taxes Jan. 1.
Evidence on the effects of soda taxes on sales and public health is “scarce,” according to independent fact-checker Politifact.
A Cook County board spokesman said members were not available to comment Wednesday due to their full-panel meeting. The full board officially repealed the tax after a 15-1 committee vote Tuesday.
Before the final vote, Cook County Board President and soda tax proponent Toni Preckwinkle was resigned to the levy’s fate.
“It is up to the commissioners to choose our direction on revenue, and I respect their authority to do so,” she said in a statement. “Now, together, we must chart a new course” to balance the budget.
Local store owners, soda makers and bottlers worried about lost sales and warned of potential layoffs and cuts to delivery routes. A group formed to fight the measure, called the Can the Tax Coalition, reported that sales at some stores had immediately plummeted when the tax took effect Aug. 2.
“Common sense has prevailed,” Can the Tax said in response to the vote.
Backers defended the tax as an important source of revenue for budget-strapped Cook County and argued that people would be more inclined to give up sugary sodas because of higher prices.
“Beverage taxes are really a money grab that has nothing to do with public health.”
William Dermody, vice president of media and public affairs at the American Beverage Association
Supporters defended the tax as a way to reduce consumption of sugary beverages.