A controversial countywide tax on sugary drinks, which was supposed to take effect July 1, was delayed June 30 after a Cook County Circuit Court judge imposed a temporary restraining order. 

The request for the temporary restraining order was filed June 27 by a group of Chicago area grocers, including Tony’s Finer Foods, which has a location in North Riverside. The circuit court’s ruling came just one day before the tax was to be implemented. There is now a preliminary hearing on the issue scheduled for July 12.

The Illinois Retail Merchant Association, along with a group of about half a dozen local grocers, filed suit arguing the 1 cent-per-ounce tax was vague and violated the Illinois Constitution.  

In a June 30 statement following the ruling, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said she was “disappointed” by the decision and added the county will appeal and look for other ways to make up the lost revenue. 

“Revenue from the tax is critical,” Preckwinkle said. “As the litigation proceeds, we will continue to aggressively defend our ordinance.”

But Rob Karr, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association lauded the judge’s decision to halt the implementation of the tax.

“We appreciate the court’s decision to hit the pause button on this matter,” Karr said in a June 30 press release. “To implement this tax correctly by the July 1deadline is inconceivable with rules and regulations that are so poorly defined, vague and continually changing.”

When reached by phone June 30, Mike Nutley of Ed’s Way Food Mart in Forest Park, said he hopes the tax will never be implemented. 

“I hope they get rid of the whole thing. This thing is terrible,” Nutley said. “No matter which you slice it’s a bad tax. I’m hoping they’ll repeal the whole thing.”

The court’s decision is the latest development in the months-long run-up to the tax’s implementation since the Cook County Board of Commissioners passed the tax in November 2016. 

Cook County officials said the tax would raise tens of millions of dollars in its first year and help improve public health. Grocers, however, have said it will hurt sales and have said the tax with cause logistical challenges and cumbersome bookkeeping. 

Since the ordinance was passed, county officials have issued at least four clarifications, including tweaks to the tax’s effect on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and in-store shelf advertising. 

The suit’s other plaintiffs include, among others, Berkot’s Super Foods, Tony’s Finer Foods, Valli Produce and La Chiquita Supermarket. 

The IRMA represents about 20,000 member stores in Illinois.