By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
Opponents of a tax on all soda drinks in Cook County won another round this week as a three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court in Chicago denied Cook County’s appeal of a temporary restraining order on the county’s controversial sweetened beverages tax. The ruling is another win for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association which has vigorously fought against a new tax. One day before the new tax was to kick in on July 1, Judge Daniel J. Kubasiak placed a temporary restraining order on the new tax. The County appealed his ruling unsuccessfully.
“We are disappointed that he has granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) preventing the collection of the sweetened beverage tax,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in an emailed statement to Crusader. “Revenue from the tax is critical to both balancing our FY2017 budget and development of our FY2018 budget. As a result of the injunction and its timing, I have asked my Finance Department to look at all options to compensate for the revenue that would have been generated by the tax.”
Preckwinkle added that 46 percent of the budget is spent on public health and another 41 percent on public safety. She said without the stream of revenue that would have come from the new tax, some Cook County services could be affected. In the meantime, Preckwinkle is also considering staff reductions.
With the TRO in place, consumers will continue to pay the same prices on items like soda pop, Gatorade and other favorite drinks. The county has said the tax will also dissuade people from buying sugary drinks that affect a person’s health. But beverage retailers said people should have a choice and the government has no business placing financial burdens on people who want to enjoy a legal beverage.
“We appreciate the appellate court’s decision to uphold the TRO, which protects Cook County retailers and consumers against a tax with rules and regulations that are unconstitutional, poorly defined and vague,” said
IRMA president and CEO Rob Karr in a prepared statement.
The tax, which was approved by the county board earlier this year, would slap a tax on most beverage drinks sold in bottles and cans, as well as fountain beverages and other drinks sold in non-pre-measured containers. The county said the new tax would generate $200 million in new revenue in the first year.
But many question if the tax is really needed. Supporters say the tax is necessary because of the financial mess the state of Illinois is in. Former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger was not reelected because he proposed a one percent sales tax. Preckwinkle immediately rescinded it when she was sworn into office in 2011.
In its July 10 ruling the Appellate Court also ordered Judge Kubasiak to speed up the process to hear arguments from both sides on whether to lift the restraining order. Those arguments could take place in the Cook County courtroom sometime within the next week, said a county spokesperson.
Citizens have been against the new tax. Many say the Chicago area already has enough taxes and many are still upset by the City of Chicago putting a seven cents tax on plastic shopping bags.
“I’m tired of paying taxes on everything here. You don’t have this in other states,” said Gary West who is originally from Madison, Wisconsin but now lives in suburban Riverdale. “You can’t tax your way into a budget because all it does is anger citizens and causes them to look for ways to get around a tax.”
Laverne Ingram of Skokie said she has no problem with the tax and says it is part of life in the Chicago area. She said all major metropolises are high tax areas. She sees the tax as part of the price for living in a great area like Chicago.
“I am willing to pay a bit more for my Pepsi and Coke products if it means the county will be able to continue public health and safety services,” she explained. “I think too often we forget how much it costs to run a jail or a hospital. I think the long-term solution however should be finding ways to reduce situations where people are committing crimes or putting themselves in the hospitals. I know a big part of the county’s costs comes from treating all of the gunshot victims and victims of other forms of violence. I bet those numbers are staggering because a number of the victims do not have health insurance.”