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Local lawmakers blast proposal to add soda tax

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 11:20 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 3:21 p.m. CDT
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(Kyle Grillot – kgrillot@shawmedia.com)
Illinois lawmakers are considering a bill that would add an excise tax to soda. The state would use the revenue to create an “obesity fund” that would help to “diminish the human and economic costs of obesity in the State of Illinois,” according to the proposed amendment. A series of hearings is being held to determine the merits of the tax and subsequent fund.

Local lawmakers had some harsh words about a proposed bill that would impose a tax on sugary beverages.

The bill, introduced in Springfield on Wednesday, calls for a penny-per-ounce excise tax, which would raise an estimated $600 million for prevention and health care, according to the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity.

State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, called the bill “ridiculous” and an “infringement on people’s personal choices.”

“People can make their own lifestyle choices,” Franks said. “It’s a bit insulting. It didn’t seem to work very well for [Mayor] Bloomberg in New York. I don’t think it will turn out any better here.”

Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, and Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, introduced the bill, which is aimed at curbing obesity in the state.

“We know our communities are suffering from obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer,” Gabel said in a news release. “It is ­critically important to generate revenue to invest in solutions to these complex problems, especially in communities that are burdened the most by these diseases.”

Studies show that a tax on soft drinks may reduce the consumption of the surgary beverage, and could also lead to a 9.3 percent reduction of childhood obesity and reduce 3,400 new cases of diabetes, according to the news release from the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity. Taxpayers could save more than $150 million in state and private health care spending, the release said.

The proposed bill places half of the new revenue into a Wellness Fund, which would support initiatives that promote nutrition, physical activity, school health and wellness and obesity prevention, among other initiatives. The other half of the funds would support the Illinois Medicaid Program.

“I think that Springfield leaders lack creativity,” state Sen. Dan Duffy, R- Lake Barrington, said. “This is another desperate, liberal tax proposal for an already overtaxed state.”

Duffy said sugary beverage consumption should be left to the individual or the parent.

“As a parent of five kids, I believe it’s my job to raise my kids,” he said. “It’s not the job of Springfield legislators.”

State Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, agreed that it is the responsibility of the consumer to limit consumption.

“When does it stop?” she said. “How about taxing Xboxes, TV jacks, fast food? There’s a never-ending supply of taxing things that make people fat. Where does it end?”

Franks called the bill “big brotherish” and said the penny-per-ounce tax is unlikely to get support from many lawmakers.

“There’s no way that this bill would ever pass,” he said. “The amount they are asking for is ludicrous. I don’t think it’s a serious bill. This was introduced to garner publicity and bring attention to an issue.”

Franks said lawmakers should instead spend their efforts promoting exercise and healthy living, rather than hitting citizens with another tax.

“That would be a more proper use of government resources than taxing people for drinking a Coke,” he said.

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