Preckwinkle Proposes New Cook County Soft Drink Tax

CHICAGO (CBS) — The price of a pop could go up next summer in Cook County. Board President Toni Preckwinkle has proposed a new tax on sweetened drinks in her budget address on Thursday.

The proposed penny-per-ounce tax on soda, lemonade, sports drinks, and other sweetened beverages was included in Preckwinkle’s $4.4 billion budget plan to help eliminate a $174 million budget gap for 2017.

Earlier this week, the World Health Organization said governments should tax sugary drinks to fight obesity and diabetes. Preckwinkle appears ready to do just that.

Carbonated beverages – including diet soft drinks, fruit beverages, sports drinks, and energy drinks – are included. Water, 100 percent juice, milk and baby formula would be excluded.

If approved, the tax would raise the price of a 2-liter bottle of soda by 68 cents, and a 24-case of canned soft drinks by $2.88. The new tax would not kick in until July, and would generate a projected $74 million in 2017, and about $150 million a year after that.

Preckwinkle said the tax would save the county money by cutting down on health care costs related to obesity, tooth decay, cardiovascular disease, and diet-related diabetes.

However, it could be a tough sell to Chicago taxpayers, who already were hit by a county sales tax last year, a massive city property tax increase over the next few years, and a new city sewer and water tax.

“First the water tax. Come on, now. And now pop? It’s crazy. It’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt in the pocket, man,” Ana Salgado said.

Sheila Haennicke said she supports the idea of taxing sugary drinks to promote better health.

“I think that obesity and tooth decay, there’s a number of reasons why it would be good not to drink so much pop, and so I would be in support of that. The county also needs the money,” she said.

Preckwinkle’s budget plan also includes 300 layoffs, eliminating nearly 300 vacant positions, and reduced salary increases for non-union county employees.

Preckwinkle reportedly has told the board she will not propose any more tax hikes in the following two years, meaning commissioners would not be asked to approve a tax increase again until after the next county election in 2018.

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