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Cook County Repeals its Sweetened Beverage Tax

If you’ve been following the Food Institute in any capacity over the course of the past year, you know we’ve been keeping our eyes on sugary beverage taxes, or “soda taxes.” We’ve reported on some benefits and some of the negatives, but this is a first: Cook County, IL, repealed its soda tax.

According to Cook County’s official website, on Oct. 11, the Cook County Board repealed the Sweetened Beverage Tax Ordinance, effective Dec. 1. The county noted that the tax must be paid, collected and enforced through Nov. 30. Information regarding final tax return remittance and payment will be available by Nov. 1.

We first picked up on the story via the Chicago Tribune, which reported early on Oct. 11 that the tax could be repealed after county commissioners overwhelmingly signaled their intent to do away with the law. A 15-1 test vote Oct. 10 was expected to lead to the tax’s removal at a final consideration meeting.

“Our history is full of examples of what can happen when our leaders engage in taxation without representation. It’s a story as old as our American Revolution,” said Commissioner Richard Boykin, an Oak Park Democrat. “It doesn’t matter whether you tax tea or tax sugar. Eventually people get fed up. Eventually people say enough is enough. That is what happened here.”

It is worth noting that outside influences had long ago set their sights on the law. Many believed the American Beverage Association, and its Can the Tax Coalition, made Cook County its “ground zero” against the expansion of soft drink taxes, including board member Tim Schneider, reported Chicago Daily Herald (Oct. 14).

“I give credit to the beverage industry,” Mr. Schneider said. “They created this awareness program, and the commissioners who had supported the tax were inundated with mail, commercials and calls. They started feeling the heat.”

It’s unclear if this coalition will be able to gain traction in regions where taxes have already been established, or if it will be successful in blocking the implementation of future taxes. One thing is clear, however: these taxes can be repealed. What looked to be a slow march towards nationwide soda taxes may be a bit more complicated, after all.