West Side residents say soda tax will hurt poor blacks

The tax has been temporarily blocked by a judge

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By Wendell Hutson

Contributing Reporter

The Cook County Sweetened Beverage Tax Ordinance has yet to take effect but when it does, some West Side consumers say they plan to buy less sugary drinks like pop and juice. The tax, which Cook County officials estimate would generate $200 million a year, adds 1 cent per ounce for sugary beverages.

"I think the beverage tax is ridiculous but this is how they [lawmakers] make their money," said Albert Sims, an Austin resident. "The [elected officials] know blacks drink a lot of pop and juice and that's why these drinks are targeted. But I'm sure there will be another tax this year that affects us blacks even more."

Derrick Smith, a North Lawndale resident, said he plans to drink more bottled water and Kool-Aid and buy less pop.

"I probably drink three liters of pop a week and with the new tax a 2-liter pop at 99 cents would increase to a $1.67, and that's too much money for pop," said Smith.

For example, a 32-ounce fountain drink for $1.90 will now cost $2.22. And a $2.99 gallon of juice or iced tea will go up to $4.27.

But while consumers prepare to pay more for sugary drinks, a group of retailers successfully stopped the tax from taking effect on July 1.

A Cook County judge temporarily blocked the tax from being implemented by granting a temporary restraining order after the Illinois Retail Merchants Association filed a lawsuit against the Cook County Revenue Department. According to the lawsuit, the tax violates the Illinois Constitution. The next court hearing is July 12.

In a statement, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said the new revenue from the tax is needed to maintain county services like public safety and healthcare.

"Revenue from the tax is critical to both balancing our 2017 budget and development of our 2018 budget," said Preckwinkle. "Because 46 percent of our budget is spent on public health and 41 percent on public safety, any such reductions would disproportionately impact these areas, as we have long cautioned."

Preckwinkle added that consumers should know that the tax does not apply to 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice; milk and milk substitutes; infant formula; and beverages for medical use.

One group exempted from the beverage tax is residents receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as SNAP). According to the Illinois Department of Revenue, there are 900,000 Cook County residents receiving SNAP.

Robert Fletcher said he recently stocked up on pop when he went grocery shopping to avoid paying more money.

"These taxes are crazy. First there was the bottled water tax, then the plastic bag tax and now the 'soda pop' tax. It seems like all these taxes are geared toward poor people," contends the North Lawndale resident.

Even though Ebony Santana said she does not buy a lot of pop she does not support the new tax.

"People with kids are going to be affected the most. I don't agree with this tax and I wish it would go away," said Santana, a Garfield Park resident. "It's becoming hard to make ends meet with these taxes. There are so many other things the county could have slapped a tax on to raise money like lottery tickets."

One way Cook County could help residents deal with escalating taxes is to pass an ordinance that would mandate employers to provide a cost of living raise every so often, said Lequita Gaines.

"The problem with living in Chicago is most salaries do not keep up with inflation. So someone earning $35,000 a year is struggling because that is the salary they started with five years ago," explained Gaines, an Austin resident. "Five years ago there were fewer taxes but now everything but salaries have gone up."

Email: wreporter@yahoo.com

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