Cook County Soda Tax Opponents Rally to Demand Repeal

Opponents of Cook County’s sweetened beverage tax organized a rally to demand its repeal Tuesday, just days before the tax is scheduled to go into effect.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association also filed a temporary restraining order asking a court to block the tax, which will be implemented beginning July 1.

Soda companies and other demonstrators protested the tax outside the county building in Chicago, bringing boxes of letters for board President Toni Preckwinkle and the commissioners, explaining how the tax could hurt local businesses.

The tax covers any drink sweetened with sugar or a substitute like aspartame, including carbonated sodas, sports and energy drinks, iced tea, flavored water and more.

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A penny will be collected for each ounce of the beverage, equating to 12 cents per can of soda, with the revenue helping to fund services, including health care, as the county faces a budget deficit of nearly $174.3 million.

“For a one dollar two-liter for the Fourth of July, that’s 67 cents extra,” John Coli Jr., of Teamsters Local 727, said at Tuesday’s rally, as protesters chanted “Can the tax.”

Business owners like Martin Sandoval say the prospect of driving up the cost of sweetened beverages has them deeply concerned.

“Being in Cook county is just so overwhelming,” said Sandoval, who owns La Chiquita Grocery and Taqueria in the city’s Little Village neighborhood. “All the regulations, all the taxes… we don’t know if it’s worth it.”

Sandoval employs 250 people at four locations across Chicago, and he said those jobs could be lost when the tax goes into effect.

“If it comes to a point where we are not making any money, we can’t keep them employed,” he added.

Some commissioners said they are receptive to repealing the tax, including 1st District Commissioner Richard Boykin.

“Pretty soon you tax people out of the city, out of the county,” Boykin said. “It's no wonder we have more people leaving the city and leaving the county of Cook than any other place in the country.”

But Preckwinkle said Tuesday that the county is standing firm, promising to fight the legal challenge to the tax – which proponents believe will result in public health benefits.

“This is healthy source of revenue and it’s a choice for people. They can not buy the sugary drinks and not pay the tax,” said Elissa Bassler of the Illinois Public Health Institute.

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