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Retailers file lawsuit in bid to halt soda pop tax

Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Greg Trotter

A group of retailers filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Cook County in an effort to halt the sweetened beverage tax that's set to go into effect Saturday, alleging the tax is unconstitutional and too vague to implement.

The lawsuit, filed by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association in Cook County Circuit Court, seeks a preliminary injunction and otherwise heightens the standoff between retailers and the county leading up to the Fourth of July weekend. Other plaintiffs include Berkot Super Foods, Fairplay Foods, Chiquita Food Market and Tony's Finer Foods, among other retailers.

County officials have said the new tax is needed to maintain county services and will benefit public health over time. Meanwhile, many local retailers — backed by a beverage industry with deep pockets — have come out in opposition to the penny-per-ounce tax, which will apply to a wide variety of sugar- and artificially sweetened beverages.

"There's an extraordinarily high level of frustration and anger (from retailers). They don't know how to comply and the county keeps moving the goal posts," said Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, which has about 20,000 member stores.

The lawsuit alleges that the tax violates a clause in the state constitution requiring uniform taxation of products within a designated taxable class, according to the complaint. For example, the ready-to-drink sweetened coffees sold in stores will be subject to the tax, but sweetened coffee drinks served at a coffee shop are excluded, the suit said.

The sweetened beverage tax is also "unconstitutionally vague" and puts retailers authorized to accept food stamp benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program at risk of violating the rules of the federal program, according to the lawsuit.

More to come.

gtrotter@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @GregTrotterTrib



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