Cook County Board considers tax on sugary drinks

ByLaura Podesta WLS logo
Friday, October 14, 2016
Soda Tax
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Cook County residents could soon find themselves digging deeper into their pockets if they want to buy a soda.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Cook County residents could soon find themselves digging deeper into their pockets if they want to buy a soda.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle revealed Thursday her 2017 budget, which includes a plan to start taxing sugary drinks.

Preckwinkle, who raised the county's sales tax last year, said she can balance her $4.4 billion dollar budget with a combination of spending cuts and new revenue.

The penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened drinks could generate nearly $75 million in one year, which would help close the county's budget gap without cutting public health or safety services.

According to the proposal, a "sweetened beverage" contains sugar or artificial sweetener, like carbonated soft drinks, fruit beverages that are not 100 percent fruit juice, sports drinks and energy drinks. Water, different kinds of milk and baby formula are not considered sweetened beverages.

"They're starting to tax everything. I mean it's getting a little ridiculous that they're taxing pop," Marty Guzik, Skokie resident, said.

Guzik bought a root beer at lunch and can't believe Cook County is considering the tax.

But Preckwinkle said it's a way to protect people's health.

"Taxing sweetened beverages can lower obesity, type two diabetes and tooth decay," she said.

Preckwinkle is trying to balance a $174 million deficit in her proposed budget. She said without the tax, she'd have to cut spending on healthcare and public safety.

"This is a tough budget that she has presented but it does stabilize us moving forward," Cmsr. Jesus "Chuy" Garcia said.

"I'm not supporting it at this point because I think it's difficult to put another tax on the people of Cook County," Cmsr. Peter Sylvestri said.

"You're talking about taxes all over the board being raised," Monty Williamson, manager of the Fish Keg, said.

Even artificially-sweetened diet pop would be taxed. At the Fish Keg on Howard Street, Williamson said an 85 cents 12 ounce can, after the highest in the nation sales tax sells for 96 cents, will cost a $1.08 under the Preckwinkle plan.

"We want to keep our prices as low as possible and its tough with all the taxes that are being charged to us," Williamson said.

The entire budget proposal was sent to the County Finance Committee for hearings.

The Illinois Beverage Association sent out a release Thursday that said a two-liter bottle of soda priced at 99 cents would cost about 68 cents more if the tax passes the board. That's an increase of about 70 percent.

"Many Cook County taxpayers have faced a massive property tax increase, along with a sales tax increase and new taxes on water and sewer services. Now is not the time for Illinois families to endure a tax on their groceries. Enough is enough. Nearly 90,000 jobs in restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores, movie theaters and more rely on the industry - all of which could be hurt by a proposed tax," IBA Acting Executive Director Claudia Rodriguez said in the statement.

Many people who spoke with ABC7 Eyewitness News Thursday were against the proposed tax. Debbie Sadowski's 15-ounce double-shot Starbucks energy drink would cost her about 15 cents more.

"I wouldn't want to pay the extra tax. No. I'm against it," Sadowski said.

Dan McHugh said he is for the tax because it could help prevent obesity and diabetes. The World Health Organization urged counties to raise taxes on sugary drinks earlier this week.

"I am for any kind of thing that stops people from being obese," McHugh said.

That's likely one of the arguments supporters will be using to push the tax forward. But for some people, like Lem Washington's uncle, it doesn't matter.

"I have an uncle who is addicted to Pepsi. He has to have it. So he doesn't care about the side effects. We try to tell him. But now he'll be hurting himself and losing money," Washington said.

The American Beverage Association, which is already running ads against the proposed tax on sugary drinks, is suing the city of Philadelphia for imposing a similar tax . The ABA said people should not have to pay a sales tax and a beverage tax on one item.

There will be several public hearings on the proposed tax. People who buy sweetened drinks in Cook County can voice their opinion at those hearings once the dates and locations are released.