Cook County commissioners to vote on repeal of sugary soda tax

The fiscal black hole facing Illinois and its local governments as lavish pension obligations come due appears to have driven at least some public officials mad.  Just as sharks, scenting blood in the water, enter into a feeding frenzy that may injure some of them, so do tax-grabbers, scenting a revenue stream.  Progressives lose all reason when they sniff money that can be tapped in the name of "protecting public health."  Nanny-staters and genuine nannies agree that "it's for your own good" are the sweetest five words in the English language.

Predictably, the Cook County soda saga has been a fiasco from the start.  The tax was never popular, and it passed the County Commission only because Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle cast a tie-breaking vote.  The crocodile tears over the "obesity epidemic" were just eyewash – a thin, condescending veneer of social engineering disguising a regressive tax on lower-income people.  Naturally sweetened fruit juices, which tend to be more expensive and favored by upper-income consumers, went untaxed, even though they are just as caloric as Coke.  Even worse, food stamp users were exempted, even though they are low-income and extraordinarily fond of Fanta and its shelf-mates – "at risk!," as the progs claim when it suits them.  If anyone deserves the progressives guidance in how to spend their food budget, it would be this group.  If sugary drinks are Satan's brew, then where is the outrage over subsidizing the victim class in unhealthy behavior?

The imposition of the tax was delayed when a trade group filed suit, and a judge issued a temporary restraining order that was subsequently overturned.  Toni Preckwinkle then did something crazy:

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is sending a strong message to anyone who wants to mess with her pop tax: Don't.

In an action a judge said could have "a chilling effect" on government and citizens' rights, county attorneys are seeking $17 million in damages from the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, the group that, with a couple of co-plaintiffs, won a temporary restraining order delaying the levy by about a month.

Preckwinkle spokesman Frank Shuftan says seeking damages is appropriate: "Actions have consequences."

"It's the Chicago way."

But the Chicago Way was so legally indefensible that Cook County withdrew the action.  Preckwinkle sent out her flak:

Frank Shuftan, chief spokesman for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, struck a conciliatory note in a written statement Tuesday.

"Now that the appellate court has rejected the emergency motion that would again prevent us from collecting the sweetened beverage tax, we believe we should move forward cooperatively and in good faith with the county's retail industry," he said. "As a result, the county has determined that withdrawing its petition for damages would serve the public interest."

Under the new tax, one cent per ounce, a "family size" 2-liter bottle costs 68 cents more, and it has caused a sharp change in consumer behavior.  Keep in mind that a family that hits a supermarket once a week can have a number of family-size bottles of their favorite drinks in its shopping basket when it hits the cashier.  That is worth a detour.

The inevitable has happened (via Illinois Review):

"To the residents and businesses of Cook County, we have heard you loud and clear and so today I have filed an ordinance to repeal the Cook County Sweetened Beverage Tax," said GOP Commissioner Sean Morrison at a press conference held Wednesday at the Cook County Building. 

Indeed, a poll released Wednesday shows 87% of Cook County residents are upset about the new one cent per ounce sugary drink tax, making a 2 liter bottle of soda pop cost 68 cents more. 

Joining Commissioner Morrison as co-sponsors of the repeal ordinance are Commissioner Richard Boykin (D-1), Commissioner John A. Fritchey (D-12), Commissioner Timothy O. Schneider (R-15), and Commissioner Jeffrey R. Tobolski (D-16). ...

The repeal ordinance will be taken up by the Cook County Board on September 13.

"I call on all residents, businesses and municipal leaders to contact your Cook County Commissioner and encourage them to vote to repeal the Beverage Tax," Morrison said. He also strongly encourages taxpayers to attend the September 13 board meeting at the Cook County Building in downtown Chicago.

We'll keep our eyes on the story.

Hat tip: Clarice Feldman

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