SPRINGFIELD - If you thought the penny-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks was flat for this legislative session, you're wrong - it's still bubbling, says the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity. The funds raised from the pop tax - a possible $600 million annually - would be spent educating the public about what makes them obese and creating community gardens, farmers markets and physical education programs.
"The reports of the sugary drink tax's demise are greatly exaggerated," said Elissa Bassler, CEO of the Illinois Public Health Institute and the Executive Director of the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity, which is leading the charge to pass the HEAL Act.
"The issues regarding obesity-related health impacts such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke are not going away, and we are committed to continuing with our mission to promote prevention and improve public health systems that maximize health and quality of life for the people of Illinois. The passage of the HEAL Act is vital to the success of that mission."
However, tax-conscious soft drink consumers would be able to escape paying those additional pennies at the checkout stand if they choose diet versions with artifical sweeteners.
When asked if diet pop would be taxed, Bessler told Illinois Review, "No, the legislation focuses on sweeteners that add calories to drinks. Artificial sweeteners are specifically excluded."
But what about sugary pop refills in restaurants? How would those taxes be calculated and collected?
Restaurants would be required to pay distributors the sugary drink tax before passing the cost on to consumers.
"The tax is an excise tax on both bottled drinks and syrups, levied on distributors," Bessler told Illinois Review. "So the fountain drinks would also be taxed, before being purchased by consumers, and would contribute revenues to the wellness fund in the bill."
It's about Illinois' health and wellness, sponsors say.
"Improving Illinois' diet is the right thing to do. We need to invest in public health and obesity prevention," said State Senator Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago), one of the bill's sponsors. "I introduced the HEAL Act to begin a necessary conversation. I'm committed to revisiting this issue every year until we pass a law that encourages people to make healthy choices about sugary drinks."