Cook County Sweetened Beverage Tax could be gone by December

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

The Cook County soda tax could be repealed this week. ©GettyImages/Kwangmoozaa
The Cook County soda tax could be repealed this week. ©GettyImages/Kwangmoozaa

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The Cook County Finance Committee is set to vote on the repeal of the Sweetened Beverage Tax, that would eliminate the penny-per-ounce tax on Dec. 1, 2017.

The path to repeal the tax is promising, according to Cook County board commissioner Sean Morrison, who submitted the repeal ordinance and has pledged to sign it on Tuesday this week along with 11 fellow commissioners – enough votes to pass the ordinance and block any potential veto.

The agreement reached on the amendment will allow for the Cook County government to close out the final seven weeks of its fiscal year with the tax in place in order to provide a “clean slate”​ for the Cook County Board to begin its 2018 budget process.

“It has not been easy task but in the end, we have reached an agreement that will address the concerns of our residents and businesses and set forth a goal to chart a new fiscal course for Cook County,”​ Morrison said.

The tax - which covers Cook County and includes the city of Chicago - went into effect in August this year. To date, the sweetened beverage tax has generated $16m in revenue, a spokesperson from Toni Preckwinkle's office told BeverageDaily. 

Backlash leads to repeal

The controversial Cook County Sweetened Beverage Tax, colloquially known as the “soda tax”,​ was projected to raise over $200m in additional revenue during its first full year, but has met much pushback from consumers who reportedly began shopping for their sweetened beverages in neighboring counties to avoid the levy.

A poll by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association (IRMA) found that nearly 87% of Cook County residents opposed the tax and that 80% believed it was a revenue ploy disguised as public health concern, a theory which President Toni Preckwinkle has rebuked.

"First and foremost, we needed revenue,"​ Preckwinkle told the Chicago Tribune. "I never pretended otherwise."

The tax was also criticized for not giving Cook County retailers enough time to adjust their checkout systems to give SNAP benefits holders exemptions to the tax and was subsequently notified by the USDA that it was violating federal law.

“Cook County residents and businesses have spoken and expressed their overwhelming opposition to this harmful, regressive and unfair beverage tax,”​ the Can the Tax Coalition said in statement.

“Common sense has prevailed and a super majority of commissioners have listened and now support the tax’s repeal. The vote can’t come soon enough.”

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