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style="font-size: 12px;">State lawmakers want to pull Cook County's sweetened beverage tax off the books and make sure no other county in the state gets any similar ideas.
Chicagoans have been subject to two weeks of a penny-per-ounce tax on any sweetened drinks and already residents are up in arms.
Now, state lawmakers have decided to intervene. Two bills were filed this week that would ban taxing sweetened beverages anywhere in Illinois. It would be retroactive, to apply to Cook County's tax.
State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, said regressive taxes like this hurt low and middle-income taxpayers.
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"People understand that to have paved roads and other services, there is a cost involved with it," she said. "But the soda tax in Cook County is so regressive that we need a policy that ensures other counties don't go down that route."
The issue of regressivity was controversial enough to force the county to give a carve-out in the tax to people purchasing sweetened drinks using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The county's poor implementation initially threatened federal funding for the program, but they had remedied the problem as of Thursday.
Critics point to the exemption for SNAP purchases of drinks as proof that the tax is nothing more than a thirst for more revenue.
"This is a money grab," said state Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego. "It's bad enough that Cook County's politicians had to sock them with a 32 percent income tax increase. Their only answer is 'more.'"
The new up-charge is wildly unpopular. A recent poll showed 87 percent of Cook County residents disliked the tax.
Cook County-located state Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, said the tax was too broad to be considered solely a public health issue.
"If you want people to not drink regular Pepsi but instead choose a healthier option, it doesn't make sense to apply the tax to Diet Pepsi as well," Zalewski said.
“This pop tax is a repeated example of another financial burden being imposed upon the people of Cook County," said Michael McAuliffe, R-Chicago, who sponsored one of the two bills aimed at banning the tax. "The vetting of this measure was short-sighted and irresponsible as roll-outs of similar pop taxes in other cities have proven to be not effective and even harmful to the local economy.”
State Rep. Christine Winger, R-Bloomingdale, says the residents of Bartlett are driving less than a block down the street to the portion of town that lies in another county. "The residents are literally leaving their purchase at the counter and leaving when they see that the case of soda is more than $8 when it was barely $6 last month," she said.
In a letter to Crain's Chicago Business, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who cast the deciding vote in favor of the tax last year, warned that vital services would be lost if she wasn't allowed to keep the tax in place.
"Our financial challenges are real and the choice is a simple one – revenue we expect from the sweetened beverage tax or draconian layoffs that affect indispensable county services," she said.
The Land of Lincoln is no slouch when it comes to sin taxes. The state pulled in $1.8 billion in revenue from cigarette, alcohol and gambling taxes in fiscal year 2014 alone.