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Will Chicago Raise Taxes On Soda?

By Anthony Todd in Food on May 1, 2012 8:40PM

Photo by mambol.
The City Council held a hearing this morning to begin the process of deciding whether Chicago will raise taxes on sugary beverages. The hearing was in response to a resolution earlier this year from Ald. George Cardenas (12th). Cardenas's proposal would increase taxes by 15-35 cents per bottle. Is it ever going to happen?

The answer is: probably not. The Tribune reported that health advocates love the idea, but that grocery stores and trade associations hate it. Chicago has also hit its state-imposed tax ceiling on sugary beverages, and so in order to do anything Springfield would have to act to raise that limit.

Would a tax on sugary beverages do anything to discourage consumption? Experts told the Trib that anything less than a penny-per-ounce increase wouldn't do a thing to discourage consumption, though it might raise quite a bit of revenue. Even worse, SNAP recipients, hard-hit by the obesity epidemic and often unable to get access to healthy foods, wouldn't be affected by the hike at all because they don't pay sales taxes.

In a city beset with revenue problems (and in a nation struggling to confront obesity), this debate is here to stay. Look for hearings like this one to recur at the state and local level in the coming months. If you want to experiment yourself, try out this calculator from Yale University. It lets visitors play with tax levels to figure out how much a tax on soft drinks would raise for cities across America. A 1 cent per ounce tax would raise approximately $130 million per year in Chicago. Would a tax increase convince you to drink less soda, or just to throw the empty bottles at City Hall?