CHICAGO - The cost of soda and other sugary drinks in Cook County will increase Saturday when a significant new tax goes into effect.
Retailers and restaurants are still fighting, hoping to stop it, saying that the economic impact of the new tax could be devastating on their businesses.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said the sugary/beverage tax is not only a way to raise much needed revenue.
"If we weren't going to have additional revenue, we'd be laying off doctors, nurses, state's attorneys, correction officers," Preckwinkle said.
With the exception of milk, water and 100-percent fruit juices, the new penny-per-ounce tax affects all sugar and artificially-sweetened beverages. A 32-ounce fountain drink for $1.90 will cost $2.22. A $2.99 gallon of juice or iced tea will go up to $4.27. Customers pay the tax at checkout, reimbursing retailers who pay the tax up front.
"It seems as though they are doing this at the cost of all working families," said Carol Bollacker, who owns Boz Hot Dog's in south suburban Lansing.
Boz Hot Dog's is a 35-year-old, family-owned business. Bollacker worries that the tax will push customers over the border to Indiana.
"In our situation, Cook County residents can easily make a choice to drive a mile or two down the road and pay less for the same kind of food," Bollacker said.
However, Preckwinkle said the tax also seeks to improve public health.
She said a tax that affects people's health is a better alternative than than raising property taxes or the sales tax again.
The Illinois Public Health Institute said sugary drinks are the No. 1 source of sugar in people's diet.
"We know the strong relationship between sugar consumption and diseases like diabetes, heart disease, obesity," said Elissa Bassler, of the Illinois Public Health Institute.
Regardless, the beverage, retailers and restaurants industries are not giving up their fight to repeal the tax.
Preckwinkle said the county has already modified the ordinance to address their concerns.
"We are fairly confident we addressed most the issues that these groups/stakeholders have," she said.
Retailers, restaurants and the beverage industry will join together for a rally Tuesday to protest the tax.
Meantime, if customers think they can get around the tax by ordering sugary beverages online, they are mistaken. If the delivery is in Cook County, consumers are subject to the tax.