A few months ago, I lamented the passage by the Seattle City Council of a sweetened beverage tax. When it was enacted, the City Council noted that several other municipalities already had similar taxes in place. That – apparently – gave them some comfort that Seattle’s new ordinance wasn’t necessarily out of spec with other forward-thinking jurisdictions.
Now comes word that one of those jurisdictions – Cook County, Illinois – has reconsidered its own tax. In fact, the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted today on a repeal of the tax (which went into effect in August of this year). The result? 15-1 in favor of repeal. I don’t know if two months is some kind of record for the fastest enactment to repeal of a tax – but I bet it is in the running for the title.
So why the turnaround? Why would cause the well-intentioned bureaucrats of the City of Chicago, that Toddlin’ Town, to do such an about-face? Well, as it turns out, people didn’t want to pay the tax. This was apparently something of a shock.
Following the enactment of the tax, a significant number of residents of Cook County began buying their soda and other sweetened beverages of choice outside the city limits. Yes, you read that correctly. The passage of the Cook County Soda Tax spurred residents to go out of their way to make sure that they bought their sugary drinks in other counties. They basically began importing their own sugary drinks – thus depriving the County not only of revenues from the new Soda Tax but all other tax revenues from those sales (or other sales that might occur in conjunction with those sales) as well. And of course this also meant depriving Cook County businesses of their own revenues from those sales – with some retailers reporting overall beverage sales declines of up to 47%.
But more embarrassing yet for the County, sugar-addled tax protesters even began tweeting about it – posting pictures of their receipts from sugary drink purchases outside of Cook County (many of which were promptly picked up and retweeted by the more beverage industry organized forces pushing for retail). Ultimately, all this unpleasantness led to the Cook County Council President acknowledging that the tax was never really about public health (you’ll note my skepticism about the Seattle claims on that front in my prior article on the Seattle tax) – and all about revenue.
So will the Emerald City follow the Windy City in a repeal of its own tax? I’m guessing not.
At least not yet. But our City Council certainly will listen to the voices of small business owners. And if those same small businesses begin to feel the sting of residents choosing to shop outside Seattle then anything is possible.
So, who wants to go buy some Mt. Dew in Snohomish?