Judge to decide on Cook County soda tax next week

Friday, July 21, 2017 05:19PM
The tax on sugary drinks in Cook County remains on hold Friday.


CHICAGO - The tax on sugary drinks in Cook County remains on hold Friday after a judge said a ruling on whether the county can enforce the tax will be made next week.

Friday, a Cook County judge heard arguments about the ordinance that would force customers to pay a penny per ounce on sweetened drinks.

Cook County has announced layoffs as the cash-strapped county struggles with a $67 million hole from the uncollected sugary drink tax. Some retailers are concerned customers will go across the county line to save money.

Attorneys for the county outlined the tax they say was enacted to promote public health. But attorneys for Illinois Retail Merchants Association question the purpose of the tax and how the regulation is written.

Attorneys for the merchants argued for fairness and used the example of a taxable sweetened coffee drink versus a non-taxable coffee sweetened in the cafe or by the customer.

"If you purchase the same sweetened beverage, a Frappuccino, over the counter, it's not taxed. That's a perfect example and easiest example to explain the violation of the uniformity clause," said David Ruskin, attorney for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

"There is clear concern in the merchant community on their viability, particularly in border areas," said Rob Karr of IRMA.

Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin observed the hearing. He is opposed to the beverage tax and suggests other options.

"I propose putting together a budget working group to actually work with the president's office in terms of coming up with the right-sized kind of reforms and cuts that wouldn't have so much devastation across the county," Boykin said.

Frank Shuftan, the spokesman for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, issued a statement saying, "We continue to work with our legal team as we await the judge's decision on our motion to dismiss."

The judge said he will rule next Friday. Until then, the temporary restraining order remains in place.
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