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'Pop Tax' Approved By Judge, Will Add 1 Cent Per Ounce Starting Wednesday

By Heather Cherone | July 28, 2017 1:37pm | Updated on July 31, 2017 10:40am
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THE LOOP — Cook County's "pop tax" — which will add a penny per ounce to the cost of sweetened drinks has been cleared to go into effect by a Cook County judge.

Judge Daniel Kubasiak, who blocked the tax from going into effect July 1, lifted his ban Friday.

The tax will go into effect Wednesday, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle said. The 31-day delay cost the county $17 million, she said.

"We believed all long that our ordinance was carefully drafted and met pertinent constitutional tests," Preckwinkle said in a statement.

Lawyers for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association that brought the suit said they were considering all their legal options, which could include an appeal to a higher court.

"We are disappointed by the ruling," said association President Rob Karr.

RELATED: NEW POP TAX ALSO COVERS JUICE BOXES, GATORADE, RED BULL AND MORE

Once implemented, tax will hike the price of a 2-liter bottle of pop by 68 cents and a six-pack by 72 cents.

Kubasiak read part of his 15-page order while standing from the bench at the Richard J. Daley Courthouse. He said he applied "a fine-tooth comb" to the arguments presented on both sides.

Noting that taxes have proven to be an "irritant" since the days of the American Revolution, Kubasiak nevertheless said they were the best way to provide for the "common good," which he said is a "moving target."

Although he acknowledged that he was aware of the intense turmoil that his decision to block the tax caused, Kubasiak said he was "not moved by the public airing" of the red ink county officials found themselves mired in after he temporarily stopped the tax.

Preckwinkle said she would not immediately rescind the 300 layoff notices she issued July 14, until the county "is able to fully implement" the tax. Preckwinkle said at the time another 600 vacant spots would remain unfilled.

Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin on Friday said that Preckwinkle bullied the judge into the decision.

"This is a bad day for taxpayers," Boykin told reporters after the brief court hearing.

However, Karen Larimer, the president of the board of directors of the American Heart Association of Metro Chicago, said the implementation of the tax is "an important step in the fight against chronic disease, one that will improve the physical health of our residents and the financial health of the county."

Though often dubbed the "pop tax," the fee, approved by one vote in November 2016 by the Cook County Board of Commissioners, applies to hundreds of sweetened beverages in addition to soft drinks.

Tanya Triche Dawood, vice president of the merchants association, said it could take four to six months for all retailers to update their systems to collect the tax.

Preckwinkle said retailers should have been prepared to collect the tax July 1, so there was no need for an additional delay.

The tax had been expected to add $68 million through the end of 2017 and $200 million in 2018 to the county's coffers.

Much of the legal fight over the tax — which had blown a hole in Cook County's budget — revolved around the fact that sweetened drinks sold in a bottle are taxed, while sweetened drinks prepared to order at restaurants and other locations are not.

David Ruskin, attorney for the merchants association that sued the county to block the tax, said it violated the law to tax a Starbucks Frappucino sold at a convenience store, but not one prepared by a barista at a Starbucks store.

However, attorney Kent Ray, who represented the county, said the ordinance imposing the tax was written that way to simplify transactions and ease the burden on businesses. In addition, "ready-made" drinks have a bigger impact on the health of county residents because they are cheaper and more widely available.

The judge sided with the county's argument.

Other courts — including in those in Pennsylvania and California — have ruled that such taxes are legal but the question never has been decided in Illinois.

RELATED:

300 Cook County Employees Laid Off After Pop Tax Blocked

17 State's Attorneys, 22 Staffers Laid Off After Pop Tax Gets Blocked

Sheriff: I Won't Let Layoffs Forced By Blocked 'Pop Tax' Threaten Progress

Read the full order:

Sweetened Beverage Tax Order by Heather Cherone on Scribd