Chicago-Area Soda Tax Fails After Only A Few Months

Image courtesy of Eric BEAUME

Cook County, IL, which includes the city of Chicago, recently became the largest local government in the country to successfully impose a tax on sweetened beverages. Now the same County Board of Commissioners that approved the tax has repealed it, only a few months after it went into effect.

Supporters of the tax had argued that it would reduce childhood obesity by making soda and other sweetened drinks more expensive and therefore less appealing. At the same time, they believed it would pump much-needed tax revenue into the county coffers from the higher prices paid by those who continued to buy these drinks. The board president had claimed that the county could expect some $200 million in the coming fiscal year from this tax.

Taxpayers, retailers, and public health advocates all chimed in with their opinions on this matter at a recent board meeting, reports Reuters, noting that the message from area consumers was clear: The people of Cook County were not fans of the tax.

A group led by Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City and foe of soft drinks everywhere, spent around $10 million on ads in the Chicago area touting the health and financial benefits of a sweetened beverage tax.

It was those ads that helped turn some residents against the tax even more, the Chicago Tribune reports.

“I get more and more angry, because I don’t need some Gotham City billionaire telling me how to live my life here in Cook County,” one resident testified before the vote.

“It doesn’t matter whether you tax tea or tax sugar,” Commissioner Richard Boykin of the suburb Oak Park told the Chicago Tribune. “Eventually people get fed up. Eventually people say enough is enough. That is what happened here.”

The tax finally took effect in August, and has proven unpopular, with implementation problems even for sophisticated Chicago-based businesses like McDonald’s, which added the tax at some restaurants in July even though a state court prevented it from going into effect, Walgreens, which imposed the tax on unsweetened drinks.

The tax threatened federal SNAP (food stamps) funds for the entire region, since not all retailers are able to remove the tax from soda, juice, or other beverage purchases by customers using food assistance.

If the decision to ditch the tax is finalized, it will stay in place through December, giving the county four months of revenue.

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