Alton, IL

Lawmakers Hope To Ban Soda Taxes

Story by WBGZ Radio

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is hoping to ban all Illinois counties from imposing a soda tax on consumers.


Another vote by the full Cook County Board is expected today that will be the final nail in the county's soda tax coffin. That follows a county committee vote Tuesday to repeal the penny-per-ounce sugary drink tax.


State Rep. Marty Moylan, D-Des Plaines, is a chief cosponsor of House Bill 4083. The measure would prohibit counties from imposing soda taxes. He said people see right through such money grabs.


“Because none of the money is being used to offset the risks of diabetes or obesity,” Moylan said. “It’s all going to pay other things.”


Tax Foundation Policy Analyst Morgan Scarboro said the goals of most excise taxes, also known as sin taxes, don’t make sense.


“So politicians get to say ‘A) We’re going to make people healthy, we’re going to make them better off, and B), we’re going to generate a ton of revenue to fix our budget problems,’” Scarboro said. “But when you think about it, those goals are actually at odds with each other.”


“It is a disconnect because it doesn’t work,” Moylan said. “The tax on pop isn’t going to help people get healthier. Exercise and diet is what makes people healthier.”


HB 4083, which has a broad swath of support in the House with 37 sponsors, is stuck in Rules Committee. There are also several resolutions opposing soda taxes both in Cook County and in all of Illinois.


Scarboro said excise taxes, like Cook County’s soda tax, leads to tax tourism.


“We saw particularly in places like Philadelphia when they passed their soda tax, residents going and buying soda across the border,” Scarboro said. “It doesn’t take very long to get somewhere else and go buy it and escape the taxes.”


Several store owners in Cook County testified Tuesday and at a hearing last month that consumers have started buying their groceries, not just sugary drinks like soda, in neighboring counties as a result of the tax.


Cook County's tax also was imposed on diet beverages, sports drinks such as Gatorade, and fruit juices with added sugar. But sugar in coffee and foods such as candy bars are not taxed.


“This is exactly the problem with the complexity of the taxes as well,” Scarboro said. “We’ve seen states that can’t figure out if diet soda is included or homemade syrups included. So that’s why we advocate going to a broad-based, sound tax policy principles. It’s just a better way to eliminate that complexity as well.”


According to US Census data from 2014, the Tax Foundation found Illinois ranked eighth highest in the country with residents paying an average of $774 in excise taxes, which include things like alcohol, amusements, insurance, motor fuel, bedding, public utilities, or tobacco.

The full Cook County Board is expected to officially repeal the penny-per-ounce tax Wednesday. If so, it will come off the books Dec. 1.


“This is great news for consumers and retailers throughout Cook County," Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said. "Since its inception, this tax was poorly devised, placed an enormous operational and financial burden on retailers and saddled consumers with the responsibility to pick up the tab."


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