Proposed Beverage Tax Could Bring Down Health Costs; Unions Oppose Measure

Feb 20, 2014

Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago)
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  Illinois already has so-called 'sin taxes' on alcohol, tobacco and gambling. Now lawmakers are trying to add sugary drinks to that list. The proposal faces an uphill battle in Springfield.

Sin taxes have a dual purpose: deterring people from what's regarded as undesirable behavior, and generating extra tax money.

In this case, lawmakers want to charge a penny per ounce of sugar-sweetened drinks like soda.

They say it would generate 600 million dollars in revenue. Half the money would go to the state's healthcare program for the poor.

The other half would be invested in health education initiatives.

One of the knocks on soda taxes is that they disproportionately target the poor. But Senator Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) says low-income individuals pay a big price without it.

"What hurts poor people? ...The extra deaths from diabetes and heart disease in poor communities," she said. "The lack of safe places to exercise and healthy places to eat in poor communities."

A number of food, alcohol, and retail groups oppose the tax. They say it would hurt multiple sectors of the economy, resulting in job loss.