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Public anger leads to repeal of soda pop tax in Chicago area

On a veto-proof 15-2 vote, the Cook County Board responded to angry constituents Wednesday by repealing Chicago’s hated soda pop tax.

Board President Toni Preckwinkle did not say if she’d veto the repeal, which would then require a perfunctory override vote.

No matter. The penny-per-ounce tax on soda and other sugary drinks imposed in the Chicago area on Aug. 2 will end on Dec. 1. It’s a major defeat for those who support regressive taxes on retail sales as a tool to fight obesity.

Chicagoans did not see it that way. Survey research showed opposition from likely voters running as high as 87 percent. Soda taxes, which also usually apply to all drinks with high sugar content, got their start in such test markets as Berkeley, CA, Boulder, CO, San Francisco, and Seattle. But those relatively wealthy enclaves did not provide a realistic test drive for the mean streets of Chicago.

And, the Chicago repeal is the second defeat so-called soda taxes have experienced in 2017. A similar tax went down in Santa Fe, NM, in May.

Chicago’s soda tax, projected to bring in $200 million next year, was the largest ever enacted in the country.

Soda tax revenue in Philadelphia, meanwhile, isn’t living up to projections. The city imposed a 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax in January that is falling short of $46 million in projected revenues. It’s also not impacting consumption of sugary beverages because of a shift to purchases outside Philadelphia’s city limits.

Chicago is likely more than a speedbump for the idea of a national soda tax.

“The final repeal vote came after the American Beverage Association and local store owners teamed to spend millions of dollars to push for the appeal, countering an even more expensive TV and radio ad campaign by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire public health advocate,” reported the Chicago Tribune.

Some Bloomberg allies were suggesting even before the Chicago vote that a tax on sugar production, not soda, would work better and avoid the regressive local impact.

Without the soda tax, Cook County has until Nov. 30 to fill the hole left in its $5.4 billion budget. Cook County includes Chicago and the Windy City’s surrounding suburbs.

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