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Customers mistakenly charged sugary drink tax after judge halts it

By Will Jones,

Despite a judge’s order to block Cook County’s penny-per-ounce taxon sweetened beverages, some confused customers said this weekend that they were still charged the tax.

Gerald Farinas said he was overcharged twice at a McDonald’s in the 6200-block of North Broadway on the city’s Edgewater neighborhood.

“I noticed that there was something strange with the price. It was higher than I normally pay,” Farinas said.

Farinas said it happened two days in a row.

“That means everyone else was charged this tax and I only got reimbursed because I asked for it,” he said.

The sweetened beverage tax, often called the soda tax, was set to go into effect Saturday. However on Friday, Circuit Judge Daniel Kubasiak granted a temporary restraining order requested by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and several grocers. In a lawsuit against the Cook County Department of Revenue they argue the tax is unconstitutional and vague.
The tax is on hold, meaning that businesses should not be charging the tax.

The next hearing on the tax is set for next week.

Peggy O’Donnell said she was charged the tax on Sunday at the McDonald’s in the 9100-block of South Cicero in Oak Lawn.

“So I asked the manager ‘Why was there a surcharge on it?’ and she says that is the new Cook County tax on sugar beverages,” O’Donnell said.

The county said it has no control over what these business are allegedly doing.

In a statement, Frank Shuftan, spokesman for Cook County Board President, said, in part: “As for individual businesses charging their consumers, once the judge issued his restraining order we have no control over what is taking place between these businesses and their customers. We have no right to enforce collection of the tax, no enforcement over who is doing so and over what becomes of the money they have collected. This was, of course, a concern given that the business groups, most notably the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, filed their lawsuit so close to the implementation date when, in fact, the rules and regs had been posted since March and we had been addressing a number of issues they had raised since January.”

Rob Karr, of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, gave some advice for customers.

“They need to bring it to the attention of the retailer immediately and seek a refund from them,” Karr said.

ABC7 purchased beverages at the two restaurant locations on Sunday and the tax was not applied.

McDonald’s did not respond to requests for comment.

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