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A chance for a do-over on Cook County’s soda tax

August 18, 2017

Chicago Tribune,

Editorial Board,

August 18, 2017-

We have a question for the members of the Cook County Board who voted for the new penny-an-ounce tax on sweetened beverages. Are you having second thoughts? We hope so. It would be hard — irresponsible, even — not to entertain doubts about the wisdom of that vote. Many things have come into focus since board President Toni Preckwinkle broke that 8-8 tie last November. The Illinois Department of Revenue has settled the question of whether the tax can be applied to purchases made with food stamps.

The answer is no. That means 872,000 people are exempt from the tax. That’s 872,000 people whose consumption of sugary beverages is beyond your overreaching grasp; 872,000 people who won’t be contributing to the $224 million you were counting on collecting next year. When you voted for the tax, you thought you could hide it from consumers by instructing retailers to include it in the shelf price of the drinks. But the Department of Revenue says you can’t do that, either. It would require merchants to charge sales tax on top of the soda tax — an illegal double taxation. The tax has to be added at the point of sale.

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