After legal battle, judge OKs Cook County soda tax
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Starting next week, you’ll have to pony up a little more money for your pop in Cook County.
A judge on Friday lifted the temporary restraining order on the controversial penny-per-ounce soda tax, paving the way for retailers to start collecting on Wednesday.
“The only question and duty before this court is to determine if the merchants have set forth sufficient substance in the verified complaint to withstand the county’s motion to dismiss,” Judge Daniel Kubasiak said, citing the lawsuit filed by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.
“The court concludes that the merchants have not, and that the county’s motion to dismiss must be granted.”
The tax was supposed to go into effect July 1, but the lawsuit stalled the tax, leading the county to issue lay off notices to hundreds of public employees.
Kubasiak issued the temporary restraining order on the tax on June 30.
That order was continued another week, to July 12, and another, to July 21, and then once more until Friday.
Minutes after the judge announced his final decision, the merchants, who were still “absorbing” the ruling, briefly spoke about their next steps.
“We’re disappointed by today’s ruling and we’re going to consider our legal options,” said Robb Karr, the merchants association president and CEO.
“I can only imagine the outrage felt by consumers throughout Cook County as they may soon have to pay this tax.”
Karr urged consumers to contact the eight Cook County Board commissioners who voted for the tax, as well as board president Toni Preckwinkle, and voice their concerns.
David Ruskin, who represented the merchants, said that an appeal of Kubasiak’s 15-page ruling was possible but added that they needed to “digest” and “determine what the next best steps are.”
Preckwinkle in a statement said that the lost revenue from the delay in implementing the tax means the county will continue reviewing its finances. She pegged the revenue loss at “at least” $17 million.
“Until we are able to fully implement and collect revenues from this tax, we will continue to review our financial position and make adjustments accordingly,” Preckwinkle said.
Karen Larimer, board president of the American Heart Association in Chicago, was “thrilled” about the passing of the tax because it could “improve social determinants of health.”
“We’re excited to see the revenue of the sweetened beverage taxes go toward healthy initiatives and underserved areas to underwrite the costs of job-training programs that we know can lead to healthier lives,” she said.
Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin, who voted against the tax, said it was a bad day for taxpayers.
“I suspect that this is just round one and we’ll see what happens, but we have to safeguard the taxpayers,” he said.
Attorneys representing the merchants argued there was no substantial difference in how sweetened beverages are classified, making the tax unfairly vague for consumers and distributors.
Last week, county lawyers argued Illinois law permits differential taxation, which refers to the fact that the tax applies to some beverages and not others. The tax, they also argued, is needed to address concerns surrounding public health.
Friday’s decision could mean long term consequences for the county and its residents, said Tanya Triche Dawood, general counsel and vice president of the merchants association.
“Consumers should be concerned about how much higher their grocery bill is going to be,” Dawood said. “This is an invitation for residents in this county to leave the county and shop elsewhere, which puts retailers at risk and, frankly, puts the county’s budget at risk.”