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Bottled Water Tax Faces Court Challenge

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Jan 5, 2008 4:22PM

2008_01_bottled_water.jpgThe long-threatened lawsuit challenging the city's bottled water tax was finally filed in Cook County Circuit Court yesterday, five days after the tax went into effect.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit seek to have the tax rescinded on the grounds that state law trumps home rule municipalities with regard to taxing food products that are consumed off-premise. The plaintiffs note that while Chicago taxes soft drinks, bottled water is not a soft drink and should be treated as a foodstuff along the lines of milk, teas and sports drinks. Joe Doss, president of the International Bottled Water Association, continues to beat the "this tax is a penalty on people for making smart beverage choices" horse into the ground, while conveniently forgetting for the sake of his and his fellow plaintiffs' argument that many bottled water brands are sourced from filtered municipal systems. Add Mr. Doss' quote to the examples of "brazen chutzpah."

Bottled water advocates also contend that the tax would force city residents to shop for bottled water in the suburbs and, while they're there, shop for food as well, which would reduce revenue for the city. In other words, they're saying that in order to save $1.20 on a case of bottled water, city residents will be willing to waste a gallon of gas to travel to a grocery store in the suburbs to buy that Dasani. Wouldn't that mean that, at an average gasoline price of $3.24 a gallon, shoppers from Chicago would still be losing two dollars?

The city still contends that the tax is legal under home rule and that, in addition to the estimated $10.5 million in revenue it will generate for the local economy, it will also raise awareness of how many bottled water brands are sourced, reduce plastic waste and maybe get some folks to re-think how they view tap water, since the soft drink companies that control the majority of the bottled water pie have no qualms about selling us the same stuff we can get from the tap for free.