Crusader staff report
After months of opposition from retailers and residents, Cook County Commissioners on Wednesday, October 11 reversed course and repealed the controversial soda tax at the weekly board meeting, threatening hundreds of jobs and leveling a damaging blow to the political career of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Opponents of the tax cheered after board commissioners voted (15-2) to roll back the ordinance that imposed a penny-per-ounce tax on all sugary drinks sold in supermarkets, retail stores and fast food restaurants. Billionaire and former New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, supported the tax, placing advertising on television and in some of Chicago’s newspapers. Bloomberg supported Preckwinkle’s explanation that the soda tax will discourage consumption and reduce obesity, but opponents believe the move was about making money.
Now, after it was repealed, the tax will go away as of December 1.
The tax, just months old, generated at least $13.9 million according to a finance committee member who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting. Now, significant layoffs may happen to plug a $200 million budget deficit originally filled by the soda tax.
Meanwhile, Preckwinkle political career appears in jeopardy as she seeks reelection for a third term next year in the general election.
The repeal happened one day after the Cook County Finance Committee voted 15-1 to repeal the tax, with some officials withdrawing their political support that helped pass the soda tax last November, amid concerns the tax would lead to loss of jobs and business moving out of Cook County.
Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) was the only member who voted against repealing the tax.
Preckwinkle expressed disappointment over the finance committee’s decision.
“Today the board exercised its collective will and set in motion a repeal of the sweetened beverage tax we approved last year,” Preckwinkle said. “As I outlined last week, it is up to the commissioners to choose our direction on revenue, and I respect their authority to do so.”
Wednesday’s repeal was imminent because the members of the finance committee are also county commissioners who would also give the final vote on the proposal. Many of the commissioners reportedly feared political repercussions if they continued supporting the soda tax, which was passed last November when Preckwinkle cast the deciding vote in a 9-8 decision.
That touched off an intense campaign by the Retail Merchants Association, which filed a lawsuit against the tax that was supposed to go into effect July 1. But a Cook County judge issued a temporary injunction, allowing the tax to go into effect August 2.
Still, opponents continued campaigning heavily against the measure, employing hundreds of work- ers to canvass neighborhoods in Chicago and in the Black community, hoping to drum up support for repealing the soda tax.