DOWNTOWN — A Cook County judge Friday blocked Cook County's sweetened beverage tax that had been set to add a penny per ounce to the cost of sweetened bottled drinks starting Saturday.
After announcing the temporary block — which runs at least until the next scheduled hearing in the court case on July 12 — Judge Daniel Kubasiak said the measure raises "significant constitutional issues that deserve significant discussion."
Kubasiak said he ordered the temporary block in part because county lawyers could not tell him how the taxes would be refunded to consumers if it was allowed to go into effect and then reversed.
Kubasiak also rejected a request from county lawyers to require the Illinois Retail Merchants Association to put up a $17 million bond that would have been paid to the county if the tax was eventually reinstated.
The beverage tax had been projected to bring in about $200 million annually — approximately $17 million a month — to the county that needs the additional fund to keep its budget out of the red.
Tanya Triche Dawood, vice president of the merchants association that brought the lawsuit with several store owners, told reporters that it was "absolutely necessary" that the "unconstitutional" tax be blocked because it treats sweetened drinks sold in a bottle differently than sweetened drinks prepared to order.
"The retailers of Cook County are absolutely relieved," Triche Dawood said, adding that county officials should "go back to the drawing board."
Elissa Bassler, of the Illinois Public Health Institute, said she was disappointed the tax was blocked, saying it would have helped reduce consumption of the drinks, which have contributed to health problems "plaguing" the county, and help pay the county's costs toward treatment of those problems while shoring up the county's budget.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said in a statement that the board was "disappointed" by the ruling and planned to appeal the decision.
She said money anticipated from the tax was "critical" to the county's budget for 2017 and 2018 and the county might need to make "a substantial number of position reductions."
"Because 46 percent of our budget is spent on public health and 41 percent on public safety, any such reductions would disproportionately impact these areas," she wore.
Dubbed the "pop tax," the fee — approved by the Cook County Board of Commissioners by one vote last November — also applies to hundreds of beverages beyond soft drinks.
The beverage industry lobby, which opposes the tax, has circulated a sample list of affected drinks, which runs 11 pages. The list includes juice drinks, sports drinks like Gatorade, flavored water with zero calories or sweeteners, iced tea, pop and lemonade.