Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

Local News

May 8, 2014

Proposed beverage tax faces foes

EFFINGHAM — Opposition is mounting to legislative efforts that would impose a tax on sweetened beverages throughout Illinois.

Steve Houston, a spokesman for opponents of the proposed Sweetened Beverage Tax, said the proposed penny-per-ounce tax would be bad for businesses that rely on the sale of sweetened beverages for much of their income.

"Throughout Illinois, the regressive tax would depress sales and impact any business that sells beverages, such as mom-and-pop convenience stores, diners, grocers, movie theaters and concession stands at community events," Houston said.

Ironically, State Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, introduced the proposed legislation this past Valentine's Day, a time of year when sweets are in high demand. The "Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, Syrups and Powder Tax Law" would impose a one-cent-per-ounce tax on distributors of bottled sweetened beverages, syrups and powders. A provision of the law would enable distributors to pass that tax onto retailers, who would then pass it onto consumers.

Hunter said in a prepared statement that her initiative is a two-part plan that would raise an estimated $600 million per year.

"Half of the dollars would be used for prevention programs, health care initiatives and community projects, like promoting nutrition and providing better meals in schools," the senator said. "The other half would generate dollars to lessen the burden of medical costs on the state, provide funding for dental care and help restore some of the devastating cuts to Medicaid."

State Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, introduced similar legislation in the Illinois House earlier this year.

The Hunter bill has been stalled in the Assignments Committee since March 28. Committee member Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said the bill is nothing more than another way for Gov. Pat Quinn and legislative Democrats to raise money for government operations.

"These guys are desperate for cash," Righter said. "This isn't about health. It's about money and spending.

"I'm not for higher taxes to raise more money for government."

Righter said Quinn and other Democrats do not have a good track record when it comes to managing public dollars.

"When we get new money, Quinn and the Democratic (legislative) leadership have proven they can't manage it," he said.

While Righter admits a straight party-line vote would enable the bill to easily pass, he hopes to enlist the support of downstate Democrats to kill the legislation.

"The question for me is whether we can convince downstate Democrats that their constituents are tired of finding new ways for government to get into their pockets," he said.

The Democrats hold commanding majorities in both houses of the General Assembly; 40-19 in the Senate, and 71-47 in the House.

Houston claims the law would impact a beverage industry that employs 114,126 people at 55 soft drink bottling and distribution facilities in Illinois.

"Together, these companies pay $6.2 billion in annual wages with an economic impact of more than $21 billion," he said.

At least one local store owner takes a dim view of the proposed legislation. Chitu Patel of A-1 Convenience Store in Effingham fears the tax would put some folks out of business.

"The government doesn't want the small business guy to run a business," Patel said. "This decision would kill small businesses."

More information on opposition to the proposed tax is available at www.noilbeveragetax.com.

Bill Grimes may be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, at bill.grimes@effinghamdailynews.com, or via Twitter @EDNBGrimes.


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