In what was hailed as a victory by opponents of Philadelphia's soda tax, officials in Chicago's county repealed a controversial tax on sweetened beverages Wednesday, just two months after it went into effect.
The Cook County Board of Commissioners voted, 15-2, to yank the penny-per-ounce tax that was imposed after the board's president cast the vote to break a tie. The repeal goes into effect Dec. 1.
Philadelphia was the first major city in the nation to pass such a tax last year. Proponents, including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and opponents, including the beverage industry, have spent millions of dollars on lobbying and advertising campaigns. But City Council sources say a vote to repeal the 1.5 cents-per-ounce tax in Philadelphia is unlikely any time soon.
The beverage industry commissioned a poll in September of nearly 1,600 Philadelphia voters and found 62 percent supported a repeal of the tax. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court might weigh in on the city's tax, since the American Beverage Association and local businesses have appealed a lower court ruling that upheld it.
Anthony Campisi, a spokesman for the Ax the Bev Tax coalition, called the vote in Illinois a victory for opponents of soda taxes everywhere. Dave McCorkle, president emeritus of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, which represents supermarkets and convenience stores across the state, called beverage taxes "bad public policy."
"Cook County voters forced their elected leaders to roll back a regressive tax that was decimating local businesses and threatening family-sustaining union jobs," McCorkle said in a statement. "It's time for Philadelphia's elected officials to listen to their constituents and do the same thing."
Daniel H. Grace, secretary of the union that represents truck drivers, warehouse staff and other workers in the regional beverage industry, agreed.
"Cook County officials realized that its tax was doing much more harm than good and wisely corrected their mistake before more economic harm befell their citizens and businesses," Grace said in a statement. "It's not too late for Philadelphia's elected officials to follow suit and repeal our city's regressive, discriminatory and under-performing beverage tax."
But the Kenney administration does not see the Cook County decision as a harbinger.
Lauren Hitt, the mayor's communications director, said Cook County's beverage tax differs in that it is filling a funding hole, while Philadelphia's tax is a means of paying for free pre-K, recreation centers, parks and libraries with a tax that is "less onerous" than other types of taxes. About 2,000 families currently use free pre-K funded by the tax and more are waiting for the program's expansion, according to the city.
Philadelphia raised $6.6 million from drink sales in August, according to the mayor's office. That's more than $1 million shy of the average monthly revenue the city would need to meet yearly projections.
In a statement, the American Heart Association called Cook County's repeal "a step back in the continuing efforts to improve public health."
Residents in Seattle; San Francisco; Oakland, Calif.; and Boulder, Colo. all pay soda taxes. Residents in Santa Fe, N.M. voted against such a tax in May.