sweetened beverage tax

Earlier this fall, the Cook County Board voted to repeal its constitutionally suspect, politically unpopular one cent per ounce sweetened beverage tax (Tax). The short-lived Tax will expire at the end of the County’s fiscal year on November 30, 2017.

Having been tasked with implementing the Tax, the Cook County Department of Revenue (Department) is now charged with unwinding it. Distributors and retailers who have paid the Tax are entitled to credits or refunds on their unsold inventory at month’s end. The Department recently issued guidance on the credit/refund procedure.

Retailers that have paid Tax to their distributors may claim a credit/refund from their distributors for Tax paid on their unsold inventory by completing the Department form entitled “2017 Sweetened Beverage Retailer Inventory Credit Request Form and Schedule A.” Retailers should complete and submit the form to their distributors, not the Department.

Distributors must file a final Tax return with the Department on or before December 20 (Final Return). To the extent a distributor already has refunded or credited Tax to its retailers, the distributor may claim a credit for the amount refunded on the “other deductions” line of its Final Return. Distributors must file the Department’s standard refund application, found on the Department’s website, to claim refunds for amounts refunded or credited to retailers after December 20. The Department has issued a new form (the “Sweetened Beverage Tax Distributor Credit Form Schedule”) to be submitted by distributors to the Department in support of any credit or refund claims. The form requires distributors to identify the retailers to which it has provided credits/refunds and the amounts thereof.

Retailers who self-remit the Tax may take a credit on their Final Return with supporting documentation. In addition, retailers that have unsold inventory as of December 1, on which they previously remitted floor tax, may obtain a refund of the floor tax through the Department’s standard refund procedure.

Practice Notes:

  1. To the extent possible, Taxpayers should take advantage of the opportunity to claim a credit on their Final Returns in order to avoid the time and expense associated with the County’s standard refund procedure.
  2. Since the Tax was repealed, enthusiasm has waned for various Illinois House Bills (HB 4082-84) proposing to limit the authority of localities to impose beverage taxes. It’s difficult to predict whether the bills will be enacted.
  3. However, the State of Michigan has passed legislation, signed into law by Governor Snyder on October 26, 2017, which prohibits municipalities from levying local taxes on food or beverages.

On July 28, Circuit Judge Daniel Kubasiak dismissed the Complaint filed by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and a group of retailers challenging the constitutionality of the Cook County, Illinois Sweetened Beverage Tax (Tax). A copy of the court’s Order is linked here (Order). The Order also dissolved the June 30 temporary restraining order which had halted the county’s imposition of the Tax, on which we have previously reported. In response to the Order, the county required Tax collection to begin on August 2. The county also announced that by September 20, retailers must remit a “floor tax” on the inventory of sweetened beverages in their possession as of August 1.

The Order rejected both of the constitutional arguments raised by the Complaint. The court held that Plaintiffs raised a good faith Illinois Uniformity Clause challenge, and thereby shifted the burden of proof to the county, because the Tax applied to pre-made, but not made-to-order sweetened beverages. The court went on to hold, however, that the county met its burden to justify this arbitrary tax classification by alleging that pre-made sweetened beverages were more widely available and therefore more likely to be purchased and consumed than made-to-order beverages (thus generating more tax revenues) and by arguing that imposing the Tax on made-to-order beverages would be administratively burdensome. The court then held that Plaintiffs had failed to meet their burden of establishing that the county’s justifications were insufficient in law or unsupported by the facts. According to the court, the “County has set forth a real and substantial difference between the people taxed, who purchase ready-to-drink, pre-made sweetened beverages, and those not taxed, who purchase on-demand, custom sweetened beverages.” (Order at 9.)

Continue Reading Illinois Court Upholds Cook County’s Beverage Tax Finding It Passes Constitutional Muster and Related Developments

A legal challenge to Cook County Illinois Sweetened Beverage Tax (Tax) heads back to circuit court today for a hearing on the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction. On June 30, Circuit Judge Daniel Kubasiak issued a temporary restraining order (TRO), halting Cook County, Illinois’ imposition of the Tax, which was to take effect on July 1. Judge Kubasiak found that the “Plaintiffs have persuaded the Court that a fair question exists as to the constitutionality” of the Tax.

Earlier this week, the plaintiff group, which includes the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and a group of retail food markets, successfully opposed the county’s emergency appeal of the TRO. In a ruling issued on Monday, July 10, the Illinois appellate court declined to set aside the TRO. While the fight is far from over, the Illinois rulings are a positive development for retailers, who have not succeeded to date in their efforts to defeat the Philadelphia sweetened beverage tax. See Opinion, Williams v. City of Phila., Nos. 2077 C.D. 2016, 2078 C.D. 2016 (Pa. Commw. Ct. June 14, 2017).

Continue Reading Beverage Tax Wars Continue as Parties Head Back to Court for a Preliminary Injunction Hearing on the Cook County, Illinois Tax