Sugary drinks could soon cost more in Cook County.
On Thursday, Board President Toni Preckwinkle proposed the penny-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages as part of her proposed $4.4 billion budget for Dec. 1, the start of the county’s new fiscal year.
Preckwinkle claimed she will not increase the tax rate for the next three fiscal years if the county board approved the budget.
Sweetened sodas, sports drinks and artificially sweetened drinks like lemonade would fall under the proposed tax. For example, a 12-pack of soda would cost $1.44 more.
Excluded are beverages like milk, baby formula and 100 percent fruit juices. The county already taxes alcoholic drinks, and Chicago has a bottled water tax.
Preckwinkle cited a report from the World Health Organization that claimed taxing sweetened beverages can reduce obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
“Our own health system, which provides a medical home for many residents of the communities most at risk for these chronic illnesses, sees it firsthand,” she said. “In the past 12 months, Cook County Health and Hospital System has spent more than $200 million treating diabetes, obesity and other conditions that could be improved by reduced sugar intake.”
The Illinois Beverage Association opposed the plan, saying residents are already burdened by tax increases. In a statement, the association said the tax would hurt families by putting jobs at risk and increasing grocery bills.
Cook County Commissioner Peter Silvestri said he rarely drinks sugary drinks but he’ll vote against the tax because his constituents can easily shop in neighboring counties.
“I think when we’re encouraging people to shop somewhere else, it’s not going to benefit the health aspect of it or the tax aspect of it,” he said.
Silvestri recognized the tax could have health benefits, but said people should be free to make that choice.
Commissioner Chuy Garcia said unlike other taxes of the past few years, residents don’t need to pay this one.
“People have a choice. They don’t have to drink the sugary drinks,” he said.
If approved, the tax would go into effect July 1. It’s expected to raise $74 million in the first year. That’ll cover less than half of the $174 million budget shortfall.
Preckwinkle also proposed a number of cost cutting measures, like layoffs and eliminating vacant positions. She’s also planning to demolish a number of county jail buildings, reducing costs in maintenance and utilities.
Preckwinkle said the cuts and the sugary drink tax will help the county avoid making cuts to public safety and health programs.