Illinois judge blocks implementation tax on carbonated drinks

01 July 2017

An Illinois judge yesterday blocked implementation of a measure that would have made Chicago the latest US city to tax sweetened drinks, saying a lawsuit filed by retailers against the measure must run its course.

Cook County Circuit Court judge Daniel Kubasiak granted the group of retailers a temporary restraining order on the penny-per-ounce county tax, which would have taken effect from today.

The county said it intended to appeal the judge's order and "aggressively defend" the tax, according to a statement from Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle.

The lawsuit argued that the ordinance was ''unconstitutionally vague'', difficult to implement and unlawful because it would tax similar beverages differently.

"I believe that it's necessary to maintain the status quo in order to protect the interest of all consumers, all taxpayers and the affected merchants," Kubasiak said.

Cook County, which included Chicago, and a number of other localities had adopted measures to cut consumption of sugary drinks for health reasons. Seattle, Philadelphia and San Francisco had also adopted similar measures.

The Cook County Board of Commissioners who had passed the tax last November commended it as a benefit to public health and a way to boost revenue. It applied to bottled sweetened beverages including soda, sports drinks and energy drinks.

According to commentators, a common sight these days at stores was of consumers loading their grocery carts with soda and other beverages, stockpiling items that would be subject to a tax. Retailers outside Cook County referred to the tax in their advertising.

According to county officials, the tax was needed to pay for services and will improve the public's health over time.

"The court is fully aware of the importance of the tax to defendant's budget," Kubasiak wrote in his ruling. "However, the court believes it is necessary to maintain the status quo to protect the interests of all consumers, all taxpayers and the affected merchants.''

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