The implosion of Chicago's soda tax is nearly upon us

The last time we checked in on the Great Chicago Soda Tax of 2017 (which is actually a Cook County initiative, but that’s pretty much Chicago) things weren’t looking good. Following one legal foul-up after another, they finally had the tax in place but consumers were revolting. Shoppers were going across the state line into Indiana in droves, hurting local businesses and driving the projected revenues from the tax to disappointing levels.

Possibly even worse was the anger being openly displayed by the voters. That’s one way to get the attention of elected officials, and now a sufficient number of them have been alarmed enough by the reaction to throw in the towel. A vote on repealing the tax is expected to take place before the year is out. (Washington Post)

Less than two months after the country’s largest soda tax went into effect, embattled lawmakers in Cook County, Ill. — the home of Chicago — are already poised to repeal it.

The tax has been plagued, in its very short life, by legal challenges, implementation glitches and a screeching, multimillion-dollar media battle between the soda industry and public health groups. On Tuesday, in recognition of growing public pressure, the Cook County Board of Commissioners is expected to vote to roll back the tax, effective as soon as Dec. 1.

It’s a major victory for Big Soda, which has spent millions on ad buys, lobbyists and political contributions in the county. It’s also the second blow this year to the soda tax movement, which suffered a defeat in Santa Fe, N.M., in early May.

The spin from the WaPo is quite clear on this one. It’s a major defeat for the progressive cause and a win for “Big Soda.” (Just as an aside, when did we decide on calling anything we don’t like “Big Whatever” in this country? Because I’d like to get in on Big Martini if that’s a thing.) They cite the fact that the tax was supported by Michael Bloomberg as supposed proof of the sin tax’s pedigree, as if that carries any weight. It’s also a supposed defeat for the cause of keeping Chicago residents healthy.

Of course, none of that is really the issue at hand here. This tax is dying from a serious of self-inflicted wounds combined with the fact that it’s a dishonest way for the government to do business. First of all, the sponsors of the original tax legislation failed to do their homework in the early stages. It’s not the fault of the consumers or “Big Soda” if they didn’t know that their first attempt ran afoul of the state constitution. (You can’t tax the same product twice for the same purpose.) Further, they should have been aware of the law which says that you couldn’t levy such a tax on SNAP recipients. (A major segment of the soda drinking public.)

Fixing all of those technical issues, however, wasn’t going to save it. It was obvious from the beginning that this was just an attempt to fill some gaps in the local government budget by extracting the money from the consumers who could least afford it. If they really thought soda was so bad for everyone they should have simply banned it entirely. (But that wouldn’t put any cash in the government coffers, would it?)

If nothing else, in Chicago of all places, you’d think they could spot a political landmine when they came across one. Angry shoppers were leaving the district to do their business. Local stores were taking a beating and the consumers were blaming the elected officials who kicked off this fiasco. And now they’re going to have to go into a full retreat with their collective tails between their legs.

If only someone could have warned them that this would happen. Oh, that’s right… we did. Repeatedly.