Business should be sour about Cook County’s sweetened beverage tax

It’s been just over a week but Cook County’s new tax on sweetened beverages is on the fast track toward becoming one of the more vilified public policies in recent memory.

Such widespread unhappiness should prompt County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and commissioners to rethink and repeal their controversial money haul.

And unless or until they do, business needs to stay in the thick of this anti-tax battle and keep making the argument for rolling it back.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association succeeded in court to temporarily stop the tax for nearly a month. Recently, a Cook County judge lifted that block, allowing the tax to go forward, and the merchants are appealing their case.

This new tax is turning into a confusing nightmare for large and small food store operators, fast-food chains and other outlets charged with collecting and keeping tabs on a new wave of incoming funds.

Although widely perceived as a toll on sugary soft drinks, it also applies to artificially sweetened beverages. So, such drinks in bottles, or from fountain machines, are taxable.

Yet since the tax is a penny-per-ounce, it raises some interesting questions. Here’s one: Are we now paying for the ice that’s put into the cup of a frosty fountain drink and, in effect, being slapped with a de facto frozen water tax, too?

On the other hand, custom-sweetened beverages, such as those mixed at a restaurant or stirred by a Starbucks barista, aren’t subject to the tax.

Got all that?

If not, don’t be embarrassed because there’s ample confusion arising in the real world outside the County Board chamber.

In recent days, for example, Walgreens, McDonald’s and 7-Eleven each have been sued by irate consumers for allegedly mismanaging the rollout of the tax.

The lawsuits are seeking class-action status, which is something these corporate giants must be thrilled to hear. The companies would not comment on the pending…

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