Cook County Repeals Soda Tax After Just Two Months

The biggest soda tax in the U.S. went into effect just two months ago, but lawmakers in Cook County, Illinois, home to Chicago, voted 15 to 1 to repeal it.

The tax from the start was plagued by legal challenges, glitches in its implementation, and a battle that reached the millions of dollars in media between public health groups and the soda industry.

On Tuesday, bowing to growing pressure from the public, the Board of Commissioners in Cook County voted overwhelmingly to roll back the soda tax, effective December 1.

This marks a big win for the soda industry, which spent millions on political contributions, lobbyists and ad buys in Cook County. It is also a second blow in 2017 to those pushing soda tax implementation, which suffered a big defeat in May in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Advocates of the tax movement, which includes many of the top public health organizations and former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg, have pushed the taxes as a way to fight against obesity while increasing revenue for local governments.

However, critics said the collapse of the tax in Cook County is proof the nationwide soda tax push is losing steam.

It does not matter if sugar or tea is taxed, said one commissioner on Tuesday, eventually people begin to say that enough is enough.

Cook County, unlike other counties or cities that have imposed a soda tax recently, arguably had problems from the beginning with its tax.

The county, which has a population of 5.2 million, was already having budget problems and voter frustration with both the local and state government when in November the commissioners voted to levy the tax at a rate of 1 cent per ounce on soda and other sugary beverages.

The tax was pitched as a way to plug up a budget gap of $1.8 billion as well as to improve the health of the public by discouraging consumption of sugar beverage that have been linked to the increase in obesity and other health conditions.

During a budget address on October 5, President of Cook County Toni Preckwinkle, the biggest defender of this measure, argued that services of the county including community interventions programs, clinics and most of all hospitals would suffer if the tax was appealed.

But early signs were clear the soda tax might not generate the revenue hoped by advocates and not on the schedule that was intended, thus it was repealed.