Tax-free ride to end for Chicagoans who order bottled water, liquor online from outside city

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s ordinance would apply the city’s nickel-a-bottle tax on bottled water and Chicago’s sliding scale of liquor taxes to purchases made online from companies outside Chicago.

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Lightfoot wants to close a legal loophole that has allowed people to dodge the city’s five-cents-a-bottle tax on bottled water by ordering online from places located outside the city.

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The tax-free ride is about to end for Chicagoans who pay less by ordering cases of water and booze for delivery to their homes and businesses.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants to close a legal loophole that has allowed people to dodge the city’s five-cents-a-bottle tax on bottled water and the city’s sliding scale of liquor taxes by ordering online from places located outside the city.

Last month, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) proposed that Chicago restaurants and take-out joints be prohibited from using foam containers and required to provide straws and food utensils only on request.

At the time, Waguespack acknowledged that plastic water bottles were every bit as responsible for “plastic pollution” that’s filling Chicago landfills and driving up costs for taxpayers. But he essentially said, first things first.

The mayor’s handpicked chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee hinted strongly that plastic water bottles would be his next target.

Lightfoot is apparently unwilling to wait.

Her ordinance would confront the bottled water problem and encourage Chicagoans to use re-fillable containers to drink, what City Comptroller Reshma Soni called the “cleanest water in the world” from Lake Michigan.

The ordinance says any bottled water wholesaler is “required to collect the tax” if the beverage is shipped to and used in Chicago.

“You’re buying at a neighborhood store and paying over there. But you’re not paying to buy it online, even though you’re consuming it here,” Soni said.

“What we’re trying to do is close a loophole and level the playing field. Let’s say you’re buying from Staples. You should not be able to buy from there and avoid the bottled water tax. The whole point of this is, if the waste is in Chicago, we need to reduce that waste. It does create a lot of landfill issues. This is something we’ve been working on to try to curb that.”

The nickel-a-bottle tax on bottled water was imposed by the City Council in 2008. It was supposed to curb plastic pollution and encourage people who live, work and play in Chicago to use portable containers filled with tap water from Lake Michigan.

It didn’t work. Bottled water use has skyrocketed. So have landfill costs.

The ordinance that Lightfoot introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting would also close a legal loophole that has allowed restaurants and individual consumers to order beer, wine and hard liquor online and avoid the city’s sliding scale of liquor taxes.

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