Proposed legislation to nix Cook County soda tax could conflict with Illinois home rule principle

By Karen Kidd | Aug 30, 2017

SPRINGFIELD —  While polling data indicates Cook County's new so-called "pop tax" is largely unpopular, two proposals filed in the Illinois General Assembly to flush the tax could infringe on the principle of home rule.

"Clearly the [proposed] law is not consistent with the principle of home rule or local control, but I am not sure if it is an unconstitutional infringement," said Rebecca Hendrick, an associate professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Home rule is the power of a county, city or other form of local government, to exercise self-governing powers within its boundaries.  

Two similar bills before the Illinois State House, HB 4082 and HB 4083, would allow the state to dictate whether counties may impose a sweetened beverage tax. Both bills aim to get rid of Cook County’s already implemented and controversial sweetened beverage tax.

HB 4082 would prevent home rule counties from imposing a tax on sweetened beverages based on volume sold, while HB 4083 would include non-home rule counties and would nullify Cook County's sweetened beverage tax, which was passed by the Cook County Board of Commissioners in November.

HB 4083, sponsored by state Rep. Michelle Mussman (D-Schaumburg), gained traction, quickly accumulating a bipartisan list of co-sponsors after first reading. 

State Rep. Michael P. McAuliffe (R-Chicago) filed HB 4082 and quickly took his proposal to his constituents in the 20th District where he found "feedback against this tax was overwhelmingly negative," according to a statement on his website.

"Residents will choose a different store over one they have gone to for years to avoid paying this," McAuliffe said on his website. "I have heard first-hand the severity this tax has already had in its first two weeks. Some say sales have already dropped 80 percent on certain products."

Both bills remain in the House Revenue and Finance Committee.

Hendrick said she is not a legal expert on state law, local government rights or the Illinois General Assembly and declined to comment on the likelihood of legislation passing.

"I do, however, think this bill [H.B. 4083] sets a bad precedent for states to pass laws with such specificity about whether counties can tax certain items in order to deal with an event in only one county," she said. "What happens if a county downstate decides to tax something else that some disagree with, or if Chicago decides they want to tax sweetened beverages?"

It would be only the beginning, Hendrick said. 

"Then the state has a precedent to pass other laws to limit these actions and you have this complicated patchwork of state laws and control over local government," she said.

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