Starting Saturday in Cook County, you’ll have to pay a sin tax if you buy a sugary drink, even if you do not sin.
You’ll pay a new county tax of a penny an ounce, supposedly to discourage you from drinking sweet stuff that’s bad for your health, even if you buy a diet drink, which puts the lie to that claim. This is really about money: the county wants more of yours.
You might imagine retailers hate this new tax and you would be right. It could prove especially hard on retailers located near the county’s borders, which must compete against stores that won’t be charging the tax. The Cook County sugary drink tax hikes the price for a 24-pack of pop, for example, to $19.29 from $16.41. Hopefully, you’ve already bought drinks for your Fourth of July party.
The Illinois Retail Merchants Association has asked a court to impose a preliminary injunction on the tax until its constitutionality can be determined. A judge could rule as early as Friday. But if there is no injunction, we’re about to witness a fascinating, if unfair, experiment in the law of supply and demand. Will sales of the taxed drinks plummet? Might consumers instead buy other untaxed drinks? Will your corner grocery store go under?
Beverages to be taxed include carbonated soft drinks (including diet), sports drinks, energy drinks, ready-to-drink sweetened coffees and teas, fruit drinks (with the exception of 100 percent fruit juice) and even alcoholic drinks with any of the above mixed in.
The county board insists their soda tax will fight obesity, diabetes and heart disease, but there is little to no evidence the tax will make much of a difference. In fact, consumption of full-calorie soda has decreased by over 25 percent over the last 20 years, yet adult obesity increased by 18.2 percent nationally from 1990 to 2015. On the other hand, the tax could help the county fill a $174.3 million budget hole.
If ever there were a tax that begged for a review in a year or so, this is it. If local retailers can show the tax has hit them too hard, the Cook County Board should be prepared to kill it.
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