Cook County withdrawing $17 million soda-tax delay lawsuit

Cook County leaders are withdrawing a suit seeking $17 million in damages from a retailers organization that delayed a controversial “soda tax” by filing a legal challenge.

The county had claimed that was the amount of lost revenue from the monthlong delay in putting the tax in place, but its move against the Illinois Retail Merchants Association was criticized by a judge who said he was troubled by the “chilling effect” on any future challenges to the county.

Frank Shuftan, chief spokesman for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, struck a conciliatory note in a written statement Tuesday.

“Now that the appellate court has rejected the emergency motion that would again prevent us from collecting the sweetened beverage tax, we believe we should move forward cooperatively and in good faith with the county's retail industry,” he said. “As a result, the county has determined that withdrawing its petition for damages would serve the public interest.”

The penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened bottled and fountain beverages was originally scheduled for implementation on July 1.

But after the merchants association's lawsuit was filed, Cook County circuit court Judge Daniel Kubasiak issued an order to temporarily block it.

The order was lifted last week after Kubasiak said he could find no legal justification to prohibit the county from collecting such a tax.

But county officials soon filed a petition for the lost revenue during the month of July, estimating it at $17 million.

In his response, Kubasiak stated that such retaliatory action would have a “chilling” effect on citizens' exercising their right to legally challenge such government decrees.

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