A proposal to slap a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks will be the subject of today’s City Council Committee on Health and Environmental Protection.
Committee Chairman George Cardenas (12) is the architect behind the so-called “Chicago Sweetened-Beverage Tax”, which includes a tax on sugary powders and syrups sold at Chicago-area grocery stores. A 12-pack of of soda would cost an additional $1.44 under the plan. Milk, liquor, coffee, tea-based beverages, as well as any drink with less than 5 grams of caloric sweetener for every 12 ounces would be exempt.
Back in 2012, Cardenas introduced a resolution (R2012-172) that led to a lengthy hearing on the effects sugary beverages have on obesity and the implications of imposing a higher sales tax on these types of beverages. At the time, Cardenas was considering a 15 to 35-cent tax on sugary drinks to curb consumption and raise money for health programs, but that plan was never put into a written, draft ordinance.
If Ald. Cardenas’ updated proposal is approved in committee today, and by the full City Council later this month, the ordinance would establish the Chicago Wellness Fund and an oversight committee to manage it. The Advisory Council for Health and Wellness would be made up of 22 members, including four aldermen, four representatives from designated city agencies, and 14 members appointed by the mayor.
Ninety-eight percent of the revenue generated through the tax would go toward the fund, with 75% of that money earmarked for health education and fitness programs at Chicago Public Schools. The Department of Public Health would pick up the other 2% of anticipated revenue for administrative costs associated with the rollout of the new tax.
Expect a lengthy hearing on the controversial tax. Ald. Cardenas has invited several expert witnesses to testify in support of the research cited in the preamble to his ordinance that suggests a tax on sugary drinks could result in a 23.5% reduction in consumption, a 9.3% reduction in youth obesity, and a 5.2% cut in adult obesity.
Speakers include: Esther Sciamarella, Executive Director of the Chicago Hispanic Health Coalition; Elissa J. Bassler, CEO of the Illinois Public Health Institute; Malik Nevels, Executive Director of the Illinois African American Coalition for Prevention; and Dr. Lisa Powell, professor of health policy and administration for the University of Illinois-Chicago’s School of Public Health.
The Chicago Coalition Against Beverage Taxes, a group created specifically to oppose Ald. Cardenas’ proposed tax, has said a tax on sugary drinks would burden businesses already paying special taxes on sodas and bottled water. The coalition, co-chaired by Rob Karr, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, lists nearly a thousand businesses, labor unions, and community groups as partners.