Toni Preckwinkle Discusses Cook County Soda Tax Pushback

Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle has a powerful ally helping convince consumers and voters that the county’s new penny-per-ounce sweetened beverage tax is good public policy. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is personally funding a $2 million commercial campaign against soda.

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However, the tax has faced enormous backlash, beginning with retailers. Implementation was scheduled to start July 1, but the Illinois Retail Merchants Association filed a lawsuit to stop it. The judge on the case ultimately ruled that the tax could start being collected about a month later.

The delay in collecting the tax revenue forced Preckwinkle to announce layoffs of 300 county employees to help balance the Cook County budget. The soda tax was expected to bring in about $67 million in 2017 and another $200 million in 2018.

But the tax is remarkably unpopular with shoppers. Even though it has only been collected for a few weeks, a whopping 87 percent of county residents polled by the Illinois Manufacturers' Association do not approve of it.

Preckwinkle has steadfastly stood by the levy as it works its way through the legal system. The Illinois Retail Merchants Association has appealed the decision and asked for a speedy legal resolution to which the county has agreed.

“We’re glad they agreed to an expedited appeal so we can get resolution to this issue in a timely manner,” said Tanya Triche Dawood, vice president and general counsel of IRMA. Dawood anticipates the appeals court decision sometime this fall.

Even with a quick appellate court decision, Preckwinkle is prepared for a long court battle. “Three or four years ago we initiated a tax on ammunition and that’s still being adjudicated,” said Preckwinkle. “So, I anticipate that this will be a long, slow progress through the courts.”

Opposition to the tax is also mounting in the Illinois House of Representatives where a new bill, HB4083, was filed to prevent Illinois counties from taxing sweetened beverages based on weight or volume. It was introduced on Aug.15 and seven days later, it had bipartisan support and 29 co-sponsors.

The sweetened beverage tax faces a repeal vote at next month’s Cook County Board meeting, Sept. 12.

Preckwinkle joins Eddie Arruza to discuss the sweetened beverage tax, Cook County finances and more.

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