Cook County Board approves sugary beverage tax

CHICAGO (AP) — Commissioners in Cook County, which includes Chicago, on Thursday approved a penny-an-ounce tax on sugary and artificially sweetened drinks despite concerns it may disproportionately affect the poor.

The tax covers carbonated soft drinks, whether sweetened with sugar or a substitute such as aspartame, sports drinks and energy drinks. Fruit drinks also will be taxed, but 100-percent fruit juice is exempt.

The board split eight-to-eight on the new tax, designed to raise millions in revenue, but promoted as a way to reduce soda consumption and in turn improve public health. County Board President Toni Preckwinkle cast the tie-breaking vote for the tax. The tax will go into effect on July 1. It means 12 cents will be added to a can of soda and 64 cents would be added to a 64-ounce bottle of soda.

"Raising revenue is never my first choice," Preckwinkle said, adding the money the tax will generate is needed to prevent destabilizing cuts to the county's criminal justice and health care systems.

Despite the additional revenue, Preckwinkle said she is planning to lay off about 300 county employees next year to help address an expected $174.3 million budget shortfall.

The proposed tax generated fierce opposition from the Washington-based American Beverage Association, which spent heavily to oppose it

"While we disagree with this tax, our energy remains squarely focused on reducing the sugar consumed from beverages — engaging with prominent public health and community organizations to change behavior," association spokeswoman Lauren Kane said in a statement.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who spent $1 million promoting the tax's adoption, called its passage a "victory for American public health."

"With Cook County's successful vote tonight, seven American cities will have adopted a sugary drinks tax to reduce obesity and tackle the diabetes crisis," Bloomberg said in a statement. "An idea that was written off not many years ago has now turned into a movement."

Earlier this year, Philadelphia approved a sugary beverages tax. Voters in San Francisco, Oakland and Albany, California, and Boulder, Colorado, approved similar taxes Tuesday.

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