Chicago Soda Tax on the Ropes

Repeal expected before the end of the year

CHICAGO -- It looks like consumers have won in Chicago and Cook County, Illinois, where county commissioners are expected to vote to repeal the sweetened-beverage tax that has vexed shoppers and retailers for the past two months.

Twelve of the Cook County Board's 17 commissioners have signed on to the repeal ordinance, according to a Chicago Tribune report. It takes 11 votes to override a veto.

The likely repeal is a significant setback for Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who on Oct. 2 proposed a new budget that relied on the $200 million a year she said the penny-an-ounce tax on sugar- and artificially sweetened beverages would generate next year, according to the newspaper report.

At the time, Preckwinkle warned that eliminating the soda tax would result in 11% across-the-board budget cuts that would curtail the county's ability to provide healthcare to the poor and keep the criminal justice system operating smoothly. She told commissioners they faced "a moment of truth ... because you know we need this revenue."

The speech failed to convince. Within the next two days, four of Preckwinkle's allies made known their plans to vote in favor of a repeal of the tax, all of them noting an outcry from residents opposed to the tax.

If the vote to repeal goes as expected, the tax could be removed as soon as Dec. 1. It also would be the first time a soda tax has been repealed since municipalities began adopting them in 2015.

Enacted Aug. 2, the tax added 1 cent per ounce to the cost of packaged drinks sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners. Recent reports suggest the sale of carbonated soft drinks have declined 30% since the tax was enacted.

Board members who oppose the tax, suggesting county retailers are losing too much business, proposed the repeal. The tax was expected to bring in $67.5 million this year and $200.6 million in 2018.

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