Soda prices in Cook County set to rise this summer

Sam Krevlin, Reporter

Evanston consumers will have to pay more to buy sugary drinks later this year after a soda tax was passed narrowly on Thursday by the Cook County Board.

The tax, which passed with a 9-8 vote, will increase the price of a two-liter bottle of soda by 68 cents and a six-pack of soda by 72 cents, effective July 1.

Board President Toni Preckwinkle made the tiebreaking vote. The tax will make Cook County, which has a population of 5.2 million people, the most populous jurisdiction in the nation to implement a tax on soda. Seven cities have adopted taxes on sugary drinks, including San Francisco, Oakland and Denver — taxes recently approved through referendums on Tuesday.

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin said the tax will provide a projected $224 million per year, a revenue source used to fund government services.

“I voted for this because I thought it is an essential revenue source to keep the county strong, especially since the state is behind in payments to us,” Suffredin said.

Suffredin added that Cook County has seen costs to its public health care system increase with the rise of obesity and diabetes. He said the tax will put more money in the healthcare system, while discouraging members from drinking sugary beverages.

The former mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, said in a statement following the board’s decision that the tax will help reduce obesity and tackle diabetes. In 2013, Bloomberg attempted to enact a ban on large sugary drinks in New York City, but courts shut the plan down. At that time, no U.S. city had a soda tax.

“This is a major victory for American public health — and a very encouraging sign of things to come,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “An idea that was written off not many years ago has now turned into a movement.”

Preckwinkle, who was the deciding vote to enact the tax, said in a statement that the tax allows Cook County to avoid budget cuts for public health and safety services. He said the tax will also allow for more spending on community-based anti-violence initiatives.

“This tax can play a positive role in important health issues that impact many of our residents — such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease — and lessen the financial burden on our health and hospitals system,” Preckwinkle said.

However, the tax has been met with opposition, with some people concerned that the tax would lead to fewer jobs, lower incomes and higher grocery bills.

Suffredin said the concerns are “hyperbole.”

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce CEO Theresa Mintle said the tax will hurt the Illinois beverage industry.

“This is an industry we should be supporting and growing,” Mintle said in the statement. “Instead, the impact of this beverage tax, combined with increases to the minimum wage and mandated paid sick leave, will continue to add uncertainty for the Cook County business community.”

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