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Philly should follow Cook County's lead in repealing beverage tax | Opinion

Retailers, restaurants, and residents have seen that beverage taxes don't work. They harm families and local businesses and economies.

Beverages for sale at Fresh Market Place in Cook County, Illinois.
Beverages for sale at Fresh Market Place in Cook County, Illinois.Read moreTerrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune

On Oct. 11, the Cook County (Ill.) Board of Commissioners voted, 15-2, to repeal the county's unfair, excessive, and overreaching penny-per-ounce sweetened beverage tax. To make the repeal possible, seven commissioners who had previously supported the tax changed their votes after hearing the outrage from angry residents in their districts.

Polls had shown that more than 85 percent of county residents opposed the tax and supported its repeal. In fact, opposition was so strong that nearly 79 percent of residents said they would be less likely to reelect a commissioner who voted for the beverage tax. As you can imagine, commissioners who supported the repeal have been near-universally celebrated.

The repeal of Cook County's beverage tax targeting working families and small businesses was the sixth time since the beginning of 2017 that elected officials or voters rejected a beverage tax in the United States. Two other cities in Washington initially considered a beverage tax but abandoned the effort after businesses and residents expressed overwhelming opposition. Clearly, there is growing opposition to beverage taxes in the United States, and elected officials are taking notice.

There are many similarities between Cook County and Philadelphia when it comes to the impact of the beverage tax.

  1. Higher costs for residents: People in Philadelphia and Cook County were both forced to pay higher costs on hundreds of everyday beverages — though Philadelphia's beverage tax is 50 percent greater than Cook County (1.5-cents an ounce  compared to 1-cent an ounce).

  2. Consumer flight and declining retail sales: Similar to what has occurred in Philadelphia, higher costs have driven residents and consumers out of Cook County, and retailers were reporting beverage sales declines nearing 50 percent less than six weeks after the tax went into effect over the summer.

  3. Job loss: As beverage and overall sales declined, many retailers in Cook County were forced to cut hours and lay off their employees.

  4. Tax revenue shortfalls: Just like in Philadelphia, Cook County was estimated to come up 28 percent to 55 percent short of the county's projected revenue.

Do these things sound familiar? They should.

In Cook County, we're grateful our elected officials changed their minds. They rejected more than $13 million in false and misleading advertisements from New York City billionaire Michael Bloomberg and chose to stand with county residents, restaurants, and retailers in support of repeal. They also saw the pain the tax has caused in Philadelphia and chose to protect Cook County citizens and businesses from similar damage to jobs, sales, and family budgets before it was too late.

Cook County's beverage tax will end on Dec. 1, and we already are anticipating the return of residents and consumers to stores and restaurants.

Retailers, restaurants, and residents have seen in Cook County and Philadelphia that beverage taxes don't work. They harm families and local businesses and economies — and do not change what people drink, just where they buy the product.

Similar to Philadelphia, Cook County is made up of blue-collar, working-class families. They were tired of being nickel and dimed and having to balance the county's budget on their backs. We stood up and our elected officials listened. We know Philadelphia residents, retailers, restaurants, and businesses are doing the same — and hope their elected officials, too, will soon listen and repeal Philadelphia's devastating beverage tax.

Brian Jordan is president of the Illinois Food Retailers Association.