There's a last-ditch effort to block the Cook County penny-per-ounce sweetened drink tax that goes into effect Saturday. The Illinois Retail Merchants Association has filed a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to block the tax.
“We think this tax violates the uniformity clause of Illinois Constitution, which says you have to tax like things alike, and what they’re doing is taxing like things differently,” said Tanya Triche Dawood, vice president and general counsel for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.
“If you buy a sweetened coffee that’s bottled, that’s taxed. But if I go to the counter and order an iced coffee that’s identical, it’s not taxed,” she added. “So the county is not treating like things alike. There’s no reason to treat them differently. Our understanding of the law is that it’s unconstitutional.”
Currently a 2-liter bottle of soda costs about $1. If the new tax goes into effect July 1, that price will jump to $1.68.
Proponents of the law argue that it will promote healthier habits. “We know that drinking soda is associated with heart disease, diabetes, obesity and some cancers,” said Elissa Bassler, CEO of the Illinois Public Health Institute.
“This is a public health intervention. It helps steer people towards healthier drinks like water and unsweetened drinks,” added Bassler. “The tax acts as funding for public health and investing in the health care needs of the county, as well as the safety needs. As public health increases, it lowers county health care costs.”
But why just target sugary drinks? “The single largest source of sugar consumption in the American diet is sugary drink,” Bassler said. “ People are getting about half their sugar calories from sugary drinks. So this is an obvious place to start.”
But Triche Dawood says this could be just the beginning of the government taxing other food and drinks it deems unhealthy.
“I think it’s absolutely a slippery slope. It opens the door to other product taxes. Maybe salt?” she said. “People say this tax doesn’t affect me. But just wait. Taxes will probably affect the product you’re eating or drinking tomorrow.”
Triche Dawood and Bassler join political correspondent Paris Schutz to discuss the tax and the grounds for the lawsuit.
Nov. 10, 2016: The ordinance passed by a slim 9-8 vote, with Board President Toni Preckwinkle casting the deciding vote.
Oct. 17, 2016: A penny-per-ounce soda tax could be coming to Cook County. We talk with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle about that and her 2017 budget goals.
Sept. 2, 2015: A proposed penny-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages is meant primarily as a way to address skyrocketing obesity and diabetes rates. But some of that revenue could go toward funding the city’s big cash crunch.