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Cook County pop tax still on hold, but ruling coming next week

Monday, July 24, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Becky Yerak

Cook County's sweetened beverage tax will remain on hold at least another week.

Cook County Circuit Judge Daniel Kubasiak said Friday that he would rule July 28 on the county's motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the penny-per-ounce charge, which was set to take effect July 1.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association and several grocers filed a lawsuit last month seeking to block the tax, which they argue is unconstitutional and too vague. Kubasiak granted a temporary restraining order June 30 that has prevented the tax from being imposed.

Many retailers oppose the tax, which would apply to a wide variety of sugar- and artificially sweetened beverages. They argue that, under the Illinois Constitution, similar objects should be taxed uniformly. Under the sweetened beverage tax, drinks in bottles, or from fountain machines, are taxable. But on-demand, custom-sweetened beverages, such as those mixed by servers or baristas, aren't subject to the tax.

Kent Ray, a lawyer for the county, told Kubasiak on Friday that the Illinois Constitution gives legislative bodies more latitude in classifying taxes than the retailers are claiming.

County officials have said the new tax is needed to pay for services and will improve public health over time. County Board President Toni Preckwinkle last week announced layoffs of 300 county employees, a move she attributed to lost revenue from the blocked tax.

Retailers, meanwhile, are still preparing for the possibility that the tax will be allowed to take effect.

Mike Bousis and his father, Dimitrious Bousis, own and operate a combined 15 Cermak Fresh Market stores. After updating some of their point-of-sale systems, Mike Bousis said, the Cermak stores are now ready to apply the sweetened beverage tax should the judge lift the temporary restraining order.

"We've had everything in place," Bousis said. But if the court allows the tax, "it will be another sad day for Chicago residents, I'll tell you that."

He said he was opposed to the idea of the penny-per-ounce tax, particularly coming on the heels of the city and county raising the minimum wage.

Greg Trotter contributed.

byerak@chicagotribune.com



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