Cook County officials vote to repeal Chicago-area soda tax

CHICAGO – The Chicago-area’s penny-per-ounce tax on soda and sweetened drinks was repealed Wednesday after a monthslong conflict that included a court battle and millions of dollars’ worth of television ads on both sides.

The Cook County Board voted, 15-2, to end the tax starting Dec. 1. The vote came just more than two months after the tax took effect Aug. 2.

The tax prompted lawsuits, a warning from a federal agency that Illinois could lose millions in funding for food stamp benefits and complaints of plummeting sales from store owners. But among its supporters were health advocates such as billionaire Michael Bloomberg, whose super PAC ran more than $2 million worth of ads defending the tax as a way to fight obesity and other health conditions.

Cook County, which includes Chicago, became the largest jurisdiction in the U.S. to enact the tax on sugary and artificially sweetened beverages when the board approved it in November with Board President Toni Preckwinkle as the deciding vote. It applies not just to soda, but also to sports drinks, iced tea and lemonade, and comes on top of beverage taxes imposed by Illinois and Chicago.

Wednesday’s final vote came after a similar finance committee vote Tuesday. Preckwinkle said in a statement after Tuesday’s vote that she was “disappointed.” The Illinois Public Health Institute and Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity said in a joint statement that it was a “bad deal” for taxpayers who will have to pay for rising health care costs related to drinking too many sugary beverages.

Some retailers opposed to the tax posted signs in the soda aisle telling customers they will pay $1.44 more on each 12-pack of soda because of the tax, and urging them to tell their county commissioner to repeal it. The Illinois Retail Merchants Association, which unsuccessfully sued to try to stop the tax, called the repeal “great news for consumers and retailers.”

Preckwinkle has said repeal could mean budget cuts and layoffs.

After Wednesday’s vote, Preckwinkle indicated she wouldn’t be taking the lead in adjusting the county’s finances.

“I assume those commissioners who are interested in [alternate] revenue will come forward with ideas,” she said.

Preckwinkle and commissioners will have to decide how they will fill an approximate $200 million budget hole that the tax would have satisfied. They have until Nov. 30 to approve a budget.