The New Chicago Soda Tax to Prevent Widespread County Layoffs

A lawsuit that delayed Chicago's soda tax in July could have resulted in more than 900 layoffs from Cook County Sheriffs Office.

A contentious penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened, pre-packaged beverages sold in the Chicago region goes into effect today, after a Cook County judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.

The tax was originally planned to go into effect on July 1st, but was delayed after the Illinois Retail Merchants Association (IRMA) fought the measure and forced it under review by the Circuit Court of Cook County. The lawsuit by IRMA contended that because the proposed tax is only for pre-packaged items, and excludes made-to-order beverages at restaurants or coffee shops, would need to be applied “uniformly across product categories" to be enforceable.

However, a review of the tax by Judge Daniel Kubasiak found that it did not violate the state’s constitution, and Kubasiak lifted the temporary restraining order against its implementation.

Soda Tax A Win for Health

The soda tax was proposed and approved last year, after Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle cast the tie-breaking vote.

“We applaud today’s decision. … We believed all along that our ordinance was carefully drafted and met pertinent constitutional tests,” Preckwinkle said in an email to the Chicago Tribune.

The Chicago chapter of the American Heart Association also championed the soda tax as a win for health, saying the move was an "important step in the fight against chronic disease."

Soda Tax Revenues Earmarked for Jobs

The new tax was poised to bring an additional $67.5 million in revenue to the county this year, money that was earmarked to prevent layoffs for 300 county workers. However, the implementation delay was costly, losing the county $17 million in revenue.

According to CBS Chicago, Preckwinkle had said the county was sending 1,100 layoff notices due to the delay, and 925 of those layoffs would have been from the sheriff’s office. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart criticized the county cost-saving strategy as "reckless."

Earlier this month, the county did layoff about 110 sheriff’s office recruits and trainees, as well as 12 other county employees.

Several other cities have similar beverage taxes, including Philadelphia, Pa., Boulder, Colo., and Berkley, Oakland and San Francisco, Calif.

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