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Judge to issue soda tax decision on Friday

AP file photo

After a day of back and forth arguments between the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and Cook County’s defense team, the fate of the county’s sweetened beverage tax was delayed another day.

Judge Daniel Kubasiak will issue his decision at 2:30 p.m. on Friday.

Attorneys David Ruskin and Marilyn Wethekam, who represented the association, argued Thursday that tax violates the Illinois Constitution’s uniformity clause.

They also argued the 1-cent-per-ounce tax is unconstitutionally vague when it comes to the lines between what is taxed and what is not — for example a store-bought Frappuccino is taxed, but one made by a barista is not.

Because of these violations and vagaries, the tax would cause irreparable harm to not only the merchants but to Cook County residents, Ruskin and Wethekam argued.

“We want the tax to be stayed,” Ruskin told the judge.

“We’re not asking you to rule today, but we’re asking for a temporary restraining order to delay the harm our clients, the consumers and distributors will face if this tax is implemented on Saturday.”

The attorneys’ argument for irreparable harm centered around the idea that, should the tax be revoked in the future, there are no refund mechanisms in place to make sure that consumers get their money back. The county, Ruskin said, wouldn’t be able to keep track of the consumers and it would be impossible with the number of retailers in the county to return funds to customers.

Ruskin and Wethekam also argued that retailers can’t comply with the county by July 1 due to revisions made to the tax from June 1 to June 29, and the penalties in place could put retailers out of business.

Lawyers Sisavanh Baker and James Beligratis, who represented the county, argued that on its face, the tax hasn’t changed since it was first passed in November 2016 and it was an important tax to try to curtail rates of obesity and other diseases.

“The validity of a tax doesn’t have to do with the effect it has on a person,” Beligratis said. “The county board is trying to make reasonable distinctions (between what’s taxed and what’s not).”

Kubasiak prodded at both arguments, though he had a lot more questions for the county. Why isn’t orange juice taxed? he asked. Don’t people consume a lot of salt, he also pointed out.

“Where does this stop?” Kubasiak asked, referring to the county’s argument that the tax is needed to address health issues.