STUMP » Articles » The Never-Ending Soda Tax: The Saga » 28 September 2017, 15:49

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

The Never-Ending Soda Tax: The Saga  


28 September 2017, 15:49

Well, for as long as it lasts, at any rate.

(and yeah, I was working on a California post, but I’m tired. So I’m going for fun!!!!!)


What We Know (and Don’t) About Soda-Pop Taxes

The Cook County soda tax has proven remarkably unpopular—especially on the heels of the fairly well-tolerated bag tax—and there’s evidence, even if it’s early, that it could put the “politically invincible” Toni Preckwinkle at risk in the upcoming election.

So what went wrong?

There are two good places to start. First, Hal Dardick at the Tribune runs through how Cook County’s tax specifically became a political war. Second, Vox’s excellent health reporter Sarah Kliff shows how there’s just not a constituency for the tax. At best, self-identified liberals support them by a mere 55 percent. Democrats are just 50 percent in favor, compared to 44 percent of Republicans, an unusual lack of ideological division for a political issue. And as Dardick demonstrates, Cook County’s tax is even more likely to stir up opposition than other cities’ taxes.

Some of the problems have been design and implementation. It’s a bit confusing; I got 17 of 22 on the Tribune’s quiz, and was particularly surprised that chocolate milk isn’t taxed (if milk is more than 50 percent of the beverage it’s exempt). Even if you can navigate what is and isn’t taxed, there have been problems with stores not taxing what is taxed and taxing what isn’t, like LaCroix, theoretically the kind of beverage that you’d want the tax to push people towards. Fountain soda is taxed, including soda used as mixers in bars… but barista-made calorie bombs at places like Starbucks aren’t taxed… but Starbucks canned drinks with sweeteners are. Accounting for refills is confusing. Purchases made with SNAP funds cannot legally be taxed, so retailers have had to make workarounds.

Do soda taxes actually cut consumption?
Yeah, they probably do. In Philadelphia, distributors have reported a decline in sales of 30 to 45 percent after that city passed its soda tax. Sales declined 10 percent in Berkeley, which had low soda consumption already, according to a study that was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies (a group now pushing the soda tax in Cook County).

In Mexico, which has had a soda tax since 2014 and has been something of a model for American cities, soda sales dropped six percent the first year and 10 percent the second year. Similar results have been reported in European countries.

One caveat: Soda consumption has been in decline since the late 1990s in the United States, while bottled-water consumption has been on the rise for 30 years. Ironically, this is one reason Chicago has a five-cents-per-bottle bottled-water tax.

Ah, there are a lot of links in there.

I will list them below:

Much of that is old news, but thought it would be nice to give you the major links from above (unlike a Pokemon master, I did not catch them all.)


Excerpts from Hal Dardick’s overview of the Cook County soda tax situation: How Preckwinkle’s pop tax backfired

When Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle first floated the idea of a pop tax to commissioners last October, a big part of her pitch was an appeal to their sense of self-preservation.

“We said to people, ‘We’re going to take one tough vote in the next three years, that’s it. Then we’re done,’” said Preckwinkle, making a reference to the financial stability the new money would bring. “And needless to say, that’s very attractive when you have to run for election.”

As political calculations go, this one backfired in a big way.
Warning signs

Approval of the soda tax was not a slam-dunk. Even before Preckwinkle publicly unveiled the penny-per-ounce charge on Oct. 13, the whispers had started at the County Building, and opponents went up with TV and radio ads opposing it.

But Preckwinkle sweetened the deal by giving each commissioner control over $500,000 in gas tax revenue to spend on transportation projects in their districts. She also rallied public health advocates to point out that downing fewer Mountain Dews could lead to a drop in obesity and diabetes.
While the vote was taken in November 2016, providing plenty of distance from the March 2018 primary election, the tax wasn’t scheduled to take effect until July 1.

The vagaries of federal law, the Illinois Constitution and state statutes meant it took months to come up with the rules of how the tax would be put in place, and changes were still being made late in the game.

For example, county officials at one point planned to tax low-income folks receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, but the state later told them that could not be done.

While the tax was meant to apply to all sugar- and artificially sweetened beverages, pop drinkers demanded to know why diet beverages were hit. The rules also meant that some restaurants taxed free refills, which diners found particularly irksome.

In Philadelphia, a soda tax was applied to distributors, meaning it didn’t show up on store receipts. But here, county officials said the Illinois Department of Revenue ruled the pop tax had to be applied at the cash register. And so store owners opted to list the new tax on receipts, a reminder to consumers that the case of soda they’d purchased now cost an additional $2.88.

Political fallout

County government hasn’t seen such a backlash since 2009, when then-Board President Todd Stroger pushed through a 1 percentage-point sales tax increase. The furor eventually led to its repeal and helped topple Stroger from office. Preckwinkle defeated him by promising to repeal the half-percent that remained. She did so, but after winning re-election, she reinstated the sales tax increase as a way to pay for vastly underfunded county worker pensions.

The sales tax flip-flop, however, did not result in anywhere near the furor Preckwinkle faces over the soda tax.

Thought it wouldn’t happen to you, Preckwinkle, huh?

That went well.

In hindsight

The pop tax vote carried some political risk, so to provide a measure of cover, commissioners also passed an ordinance last November barring further sales tax increases, or property tax increases beyond the rate of inflation, before 2020.

Hindsight, of course, is always 20/20, but one commissioner said it’s clear last fall’s political calculation failed.

“I was happy we passed the moratorium on taxes, but it really didn’t work, did it?” said veteran Commissioner Peter Silvestri, an Elmwood Park Republican who voted against the soda tax. “It’s probably one of the biggest issues I’ve dealt with since I’ve been there. Luckily, I’m on the right side of the issue, so that helps.”



Commissioner Larry Suffredin, an Evanston Democrat who backs the pop tax, said that all the outside money means commissioners and local retailers have lost control of the message surrounding the debate.

“Each has a different message,” said Suffredin, who noted Bloomberg is waging a public health battle while the beverage industry has made Cook County, the largest jurisdiction in the country to enact a pop tax, a primary political battleground. “They’re having a war at 30,000 feet, and it’s confusing people on the ground.”

“What happens is you lose control of the messaging about what’s being said about your tax,” added Suffredin, who said it was primarily about raising money and only secondarily about the public health benefits. “We didn’t impose this tax to have it diminish to zero. We imposed this tax to balance the budget, to make pension payments, to provide the services.”

So… is it about health? Or revenue? You may want to check with Preckwinkle on that messaging before blaming Bloomberg’s bucks for muddying the water.

Preckwinkle was accusing BIIIIG SODA!!!! for the evil opposition to the soda tax.

But yes, everybody knows the point was to bring in a lot of money. Not to kill the BIG SODA beast.

But the explicit revenue grab was a no-go, but fancy that people react really poorly from a blatant revenue grab with a BUT IT’S GOOD FOR YOU, PEONS argument. Huh. It’s almost like people didn’t like that in the 2016 election, either.


Excerpt from Sarah Kliff’s 2016 piece that there’s no constituency for a soda tax.

A new poll shows why it’s so hard to pass a soda tax

Updated by Sarah May 6, 2016, 11:00am EDT

Soda taxes have a pretty dismal record at the ballot box — and a new poll helps explain why.

In recent years, voters in multiple cities have rejected the idea of levying an additional fee on sugary beverages — like soda, sweetened ice tea, or sports drinks — to discourage consumption and reduce obesity.

Only one American city — Berkeley, California — has managed to pass a soda tax, although Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is now pursuing a similar plan.

Polling data suggests a clear reason these soda taxes face long odds: Americans are genuinely, truly split on the idea of taxing sugary drinks like soda — no matter how you look at the numbers.

Support for soda tax doesn’t align clearly with any one ideology. Democrats are split on soda taxes, and so are Republicans. Men and women are split pretty evenly, as are old voters and young voters. Soda taxes are the rare tax issue on which those who do and don’t identify as Tea Party supporters hold pretty similar views.

This might speak to why public health advocates have faced such a struggle passing soda taxes: There’s no key constituency they can count on for support.

Finding a group with strong support for soda taxes is tough

Combing through our findings, the one group that supported soda taxes by the widest margins seems to be self-identified liberals. But even there, support isn’t especially strong; 55 percent support a soda tax, compared with 40 percent of self-identified conservatives.

This chart helps explain why the first soda tax succeeded in Berkeley; it is a city whose name is essentially synonymous with liberalism.

But it also explains why soda taxes have failed elsewhere: Most voters don’t self-identify as liberal (in our poll, 34 percent chose this label). Soda taxes, right now, don’t have a clear coalition that can be counted on to turn up in support — while the beverage industry will certainly show up in opposition.

Huh, maybe somebody should have told Hillary Clinton that most Americans aren’t liberals (much less leftists). That information could have come in handy for her in 2016. Too bad this poll came in May 2016.

Anyway, there’s no constituency for a property tax, either. This is about revenue. You’re not going to get a lot of people on board when it’s taken out of their own skins.

I don’t drink soda (other than plain seltzer or Pellegrino, which isn’t the same thing… they’re just bubbly water) and I’m not in Cook County, so I’m a constituent only for the entertainment value.

Taxes have constituents only to the extent of what the money will be spent on (and that the constituency doesn’t get taxed itself).

Politicians were warned well ahead of time that people don’t like this.

Preckwinkle persisted.


Wait, a song?

“Look What You Made Me Do”

(a song about IL folk like me driving to another counties to avoid paying an atrocious tax on soda)

I don’t like your little tax
My wallet can’t relax
Illinois just can’t stop taxing us
All the time, no, I don’t like you
I don’t like Toni’s tone of lies
They tax, the public cries
You said it’s for the kids
But it all goes to politicians, so no, I don’t like you (Oh!)

But I got smarter, taxing us so much is a crime
Honey, I drove to Lake County, I do it all the time
I’ve got a list of Jewels with no tax on my map app
I check it once, then I check it twice, oh!

Ooh, look what you made me do
Look what you made me do

More at the link…and the Taylor Swift inspiration:

That’s… not a good look for Taylor.

Of course they do.

Let Them Drink Water (but we’ll tax that, too)

Sure, let Bloomberg waste his money on a study. Nobody cares.

Here’s a study:

Nobody really cares. Elections don’t swing on studies.

Maybe they should tax those cheese pies they fraudulently name pizzas. That could bring in a lot of dough.


You know I had to put that one in here.


Now come the time when I throw up a list of all my soda tax posts:



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