Cook County board president proposes tax on sugary drinks

Cook County board president proposes tax on sugary drinks

Implementing a taxpayer bill of rights could prevent Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle from increasing the county’s already-high tax burden.

Cook County residents can forget about getting tax relief any time soon. On top of the numerous new taxes and tax hikes the county passed in 2015, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is considering imposing a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages. The proposed sugary drink tax would be intended to plug a $174 million hole in the county’s budget.

A tax on sugary beverages would affect many Cook County residents, but it would hit people with lower incomes especially hard. According to a Gallup poll, 45 percent of people with incomes less than $30,000 drink regular soda. Yet, only 20 percent of those with annual incomes of $75,000 or more drink regular soda.

Preckwinkle’s proposed tax is just the latest in a string of tax increases intended to substitute for real budget reforms and fiscal discipline. But Cook County residents are already suffering under the weight of high taxes. In 2015, the Cook County Board voted to levy several new taxes including a hotel accommodations tax, an amusement tax and a new tax on e-cigarette liquids. And Cook County residents pay among the highest sales tax in the nation, with Chicago, the county’s seat, paying the highest sales tax of any major city in the U.S.

A sugary drink tax could be averted if Cook County residents had a taxpayer bill of rights. A taxpayer bill of rights would put a limit to how much in taxes a government could collect each year, and it would require the government to ask voters permission via a ballot referendum before it raises taxes above the limit or introduces a new tax. If Cook County had a taxpayer bill of rights, then the county would not be able to impose this penny-per-ounce tax without asking voters first.

Preckwinkle and other elected officials need to look at structural changes to resolve Cook County’s budget problems, such as implementing pension reform and advocating for state workers compensation reform.

Continuing nickel-and-dime taxing will not fix Cook County’s budget problems. And delaying needed reforms hurts taxpayers and all those who depend on having a functioning, fiscally sound county.

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