Judge Lifts Injunction Blocking Cook County Soda Tax

CHICAGO (CBS) — A judge has lifted an injunction on Cook County’s sweetened beverage tax, allowing the county to begin collecting the penny-per-ounce tax.

The tax is expected to be collected beginning next Wednesday, barring surprises or another legal challenge.

Cook County Circuit Judge Daniel Kubasiak had blocked the tax on June 30, one day before it was to go into effect, after opponents filed a lawsuit claiming the tax is unconstitutionally vague, and isn’t applied uniformly to the same drinks.

At a hearing Friday afternoon, Kubasiak dismissed the lawsuit and lifted the injunction.

The tax would add a penny per ounce to the cost of buying all sugary soft drinks, lemonades, teas, sports drinks, and sweetened powders and syrups used for fountain drinks in Cook County. It also would include drinks made with artificial sweeteners.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association, which had filed the lawsuit challenging the tax, said it was disappointed in the judge’s ruling, and the organization was exploring the possibility of an appeal.

Opponents have noted the tax would apply to diet drinks with no calories and no sugar, and would exempt sugary drinks like 100 percent fruit juice and sweetened coffees and teas served behind the counter. Retailers also have noted they must either charge customers tax on the ice in fountain drinks, unless they fill out paperwork to designate how much ice each cup holds. Complicating matters, most fast food restaurants that serve fountain drinks allow customers to decide how much ice to put in their drinks.

County officials have estimated the tax would generate $17 million a month in revenue.

While the tax was blocked, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle had directed all county offices to cut 10 percent of their budgets, and more than 300 county employees were laid off earlier this month. Officials also had said another 600 vacant positions would go unfilled.

Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin, who voted against the tax, claimed Preckwinkle “bullied” the court into lifting the injunction.

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