State 'Pop Tax' Proposal Draws Mixed Reaction

By Wendell Hutson on February 24, 2014 8:01am | Updated on February 24, 2014 8:03am

CHICAGO — Marlon Garvey said he stopped drinking pop years ago for health reasons and welcomes a statewide tax on sugary beverages proposed by state Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-3rd).

"I think Chicago should do away with the bottled water tax and move it over to pop. Why put an additional tax on something that's healthy for you? That never made sense to me," Garvey said. "No pop, including diet pop, is good for you."

Hunter recently introduced a bill that would create the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, Syrups, and Powder Tax law, imposing a tax on sugary drinks and mixes. The South Side legislator, whose district includes Bronzeville, wants to add a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks like pop.

"The intent of this tax is to try and stop the bleeding. Sugary beverages contribute to the obesity problem America is facing," said Hunter who once worked as a substance-abuse counselor. "As a former health professional, I want to help residents get healthier, and this is one way to do it."

She estimated the new tax would generate $600 million annually.

"That money would be split equally to fund health education programs in communities and with the state's Medicaid program," Hunter said.

But the Illinois Beverage Association said Hunter's proposal would have far-reaching consequences beyond health.

"While this bill may reduce consumption, it would also kill good-paying jobs and cut into the bottom line of employers who would be forced to raise their prices," said Timothy Bramlet, executive director of the association. "It is an economic disaster, and we are disappointed in Sen. Hunter's decision to propose this tax."

Reaction from consumers was mixed.

Angela Walker said she only buys pop every now and then and sees nothing wrong with it.

"I can think of a lot more things than pop people are consuming that are unhealthy," Walker said. "In the end, people are going to do what they want anyway, so why bother trying to make it hard for them to buy it?"

But Ed Baxter said he stopped drinking pop years ago because it caused him to gain weight.

"When I was drinking pop I had ballooned to 300 pounds. Now I am down to 270 pounds, and I feel great," Baxter said. "People drink so much pop because it is cheap. It is nothing but instant death. That's why I say tax the hell out of it."

Some of the biggest consumers of pop are young people, contended Mabel Flynn, a retired public school teacher.

"I was elated when Chicago Public Schools removed pop from its snack machines," Flynn said. "When I was a teacher kids would come to school drinking those colorful juices and eating chips and Honey Buns. All that sugar early in the morning made them hyper all day long."

The bill is co-sponsored by Chicago Democrats Jacqueline Collins, Heather Steans and Donne Trotter, as well as Cicero Democrat Martin A. Sandoval.

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