Thursday, August 10, 2017

Preckwinkle ends bid to win $17 million from retailers in pop tax case

Hat Tip: Second City Cop

The following article appeared in the Chicago Tribune on August 8th

By Hal Dardick 

Cook County has withdrawn its legal motion to exact $17 million from retailers that sued the county over its controversial sweetened beverage tax, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's spokesman said Tuesday.

The move came days after Preckwinkle defended the effort during a WGN-AM 720 radio interview. The criticism was mounting, though, with newspaper editorial boards bashing the effort and county commissioners looking to curtail her authority to sue for damages in such cases. 
Toni Preckwinkle

In explaining the reversal, spokesman Frank Shuftan said it was triggered by a new appeals court denial of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association's motion to halt collection of the tax as the judges considered the merits of the overall case. At the same time, he reiterated Preckwinkle's earlier justification — that a temporary delay in implementing the penny-per-ounce tax on artificially and sugar-sweetened beverages cost the county significant revenue it was counting on to pay the bills this year.

"It was always our intention to protect the revenue that finances the county's critical public health and public safety services," Shuftan said in a statement. "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. As a result, the county has determined that withdrawing its petition for damages would serve the public interest."

Despite Preckwinkle's conciliatory move Tuesday, merchants association President and CEO Rob Karr said the "motion for damages displayed a dangerous disdain for legal rights we all enjoy. We look forward to the Preckwinkle administration beginning to exercise cooperation and good faith with the county's retail industry."

The group and individual retailers sued to block the tax on the eve of July 1, its original implementation date. Circuit Judge Daniel Kubasiak initially blocked it from going into effect, but he later ruled in the county's favor. Retailers began imposing it last Wednesday at the county's direction.

Then, the county last week went to court and sought $17 million in damages — the amount the county estimates it lost by the monthlong delay — from the retailers that sued the county.

That drew a skeptical response from Kubasiak. "I can tell you that I am troubled by this, the chilling effect of the government saying that you best not challenge us because if you are proven wrong we will come and get damages from you," he said.

Preckwinkle said on the "Sunday Spin" radio show that people had a legal right to challenge the tax — approved last November when Preckwinkle broke a rare County Board tie vote — but defended her countersuit by saying the lost month of collecting it "had a very dramatic consequence in terms of county revenues."

Preckwinkle said that more than 30 meetings and conferences were held with officials from the retail and beverage industry and that the rules and regulations related to the tax were changed as a result.

"You know, the retail merchants could have started this suit in November, in which case it would have been resolved by July 1st and we would have been in a much better position to determine where we were before the end of the fiscal year (on Nov. 30)," Preckwinkle said. "I think they exercised their right to challenge our action and we're countersuing."

The tax was expected to bring in $67.5 million this year. Before the judge ruled in the county's favor, Preckwinkle called for other county elected and appointed officials to cut 10 percent from their budgets for the remainder of fiscal 2017. She's since scaled that back to 5 percent.

Preckwinkle's move to withdraw the motion came as County Board commissioners were laying plans to introduce an ordinance that would require board approval for the state's attorney — the county's lawyer in the case — to sue for damages. The change had backing from both Republicans and Democrats, including close allies of Preckwinkle.

Last week, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle decided to file a $17 dollar lawsuit against the Illinois Retail Merchants Association for daring to call her Sugary Drink tax what it was---an unconstitutional money grab. The Association had won a legal stay against the implementation of the tax from Circuit Court Judge Daniel Kubasiak. 

Of course, Chicago political officials are NEVER prevented for long from collecting the dough they claim to need so desperately. The tax was soon declared constitutional and Cook County residents dumb enough to buy Coke where they live are getting reamed. Well, SOME are, that is. Chicago residents on Food Stamps are exempt! The people most likely to suffer the adverse effects of sugary drinks, don't have to pay the tax! (As though the tax was EVER about pubic health!) More about that here.

But Preckwinkle has taken such withering heat for her "Don't Anyone Dare Defy Me" lawsuit, that she has been forced to drop it. Charming thugs in Chicago. Capone was a puppy compared with the list of City politicians over the years.  Ed.

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