Vengeful politician seeks to bankrupt group that won a court order against a new tax

Ever since Sean Connery uttered the words "the Chicago way," the rest of humanity has been on notice that a different rulebook applies to the territory around the confluence of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.  "He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue!  That's the Chicago way."  The boundaries of this moral universe apparently extend all the way to the county line, as Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle has filed a jaw-dropping lawsuit.

Greg Hinze of Crain's Chicago Business writes:

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."

If David Mamet were ever to pen a sequel to The Untouchables, the line "actions have consequences" would be the perfect coda to a scene in which violent retribution takes place.  And make no mistake: Preckwinkle's lawsuit is about nothing other than vengeance, as the Chicago Tribune editorial board thunders today in an editorial titled "Preckwinkle doubles down on foolish: Vengeance is mine, sayeth the soda taxer."

While consumers have been busy rebelling against Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's soda tax, she has been busy plotting revenge. Preckwinkle assigned her lawyers the task of punishing the group that sued her.

According to Crain's Chicago Business, Preckwinkle's lawyers will try to extract a crushing $17 million from the Illinois Retail Merchants Association [IRMA], a private interest group that represents retail stores. The group had challenged her tax in court, arguing that it was unconstitutionally arbitrary.

The retailers won a temporary order blocking the tax, but then suffered a loss they're appealing. So the penny-per-ounce tax took effect Wednesday, about a month later than Preckwinkle planned.

A county spokesman says Preckwinkle believes the merchants association should pay the costs of her court fight and revenue the county couldn't collect. But really, the message is: Don't dare to challenge her, not even through the judicial system – the branch of government in a democracy that, among other things, gives citizens a way to challenge heavy-handed governments. Don't dare.

IRMA has gotten the message:

IRMA says it will fight the county's attempts to make it pay up.

"We filed a timely lawsuit to have the tax declared unconstitutional and to stop the tax from taking effect on July 1st because it was the right thing to do on behalf of retailers in the county. This filing sends a very distinct signal to any person that believes they have a legitimate challenge to any law passed by the Cook County Board that they should think twice," a statement from the group said.

The premise of the soda tax – that it is a health measure – has been disproven by the simple fact that some of the largest consumers of sugary soda – the ones using food stamps – are exempt from the do-gooders' tax.  It's all about the money, and if you get in the way of Toni Preckwinkle's money-grab, she will bankrupt you using taxpayers' funds.

It's the Chicago way, the approach that Barack Obama brought to the national stage.

Hat tip: Peter von Buol

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