Vote delayed on Cook County soda tax repeal
Cook County's controversial sweetened beverage tax will stay in place for at least another month after a vote to repeal it was delayed Wednesday.
The delay indicated a lack of support for an outright repeal, despite strong criticism of the tax from some audience members at Wednesday's Cook County Board meeting. But others spoke in favor of the penny-per-ounce tax and its goal of bringing in $200 million a year to close a budget gap.
"I recognize that there is no political will today to take up a repeal vote," said Commissioner Sean Morrison of Palos Park, referring the measure to the finance committee.
Repeal would take nine of 17 commissioners' votes and could be vetoed by County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, a Chicago Democrat. The tax passed in November with eight yes votes plus Preckwinkle, who cast a tie breaker because one commissioner was absent.
The repeal, sponsored by Morrison and commissioners Tim Schneider of Bartlett, Richard Boykin of Chicago, Jeffrey Tobolski of McCook and John Fritchey of Chicago, will be heard in committee Oct. 10.
"Although this regressive tax has only been in effect a short time, it appears that many consumers are crossing county borders to purchase items being taxed and are also buying others items leading to an ultimate loss of tax dollars to our neighboring counties and states," reads the repeal ordinance.
Cook County became the largest jurisdiction in the country to tax sweetened beverages late last year. The tax applies to regular and diet soda as well as other sweetened bottled drinks.
Both sides delivered a full-court press this week, culminating with 97 people packing the board room Wednesday and spilling into hallways as they waited to speak.
Worth Mayor Mary Werner said residents were being "hurt by this tax every day" and brought 23 pages of angry comments from constituents.
Pastor Reshorna Fitzpatrick of Stone Temple Church in Chicago said "sugary sodas are causing health issues that we can prevent if we do our part."
In a speech earlier Wednesday to the City Club of Chicago, Preckwinkle said a repeal would show the county board
"willing to go backward and let Cook County become sicker, less safe and less efficient." She would not tell reporters if she would veto a repeal, if it passed.
"I expect to continue to have support for the tax," she said.
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman, has announced he's spending $5 million on television and radio ads defending the tax as a key ally in the fight against childhood obesity.
The Illinois Retail Merchants Association sued to stop the tax and delayed it for a month. A judge ultimately ruled against the association, but an appeal is pending. Beverage and retail lobbying groups are campaigning to repeal the tax via radio and TV ads and polls suggesting commissioners who support it could lose their seats in next year's election.
Preckwinkle has announced her intentions to run for a third term.
"Don't make this your Michael Bilandic moment," Carol Bollaker of Boz Hot Dogs in Thornton told Preckwinkle, a reference to the former Chicago mayor's mishandling of the 1979 blizzard, the worst in the city's history, which hindered his re-election campaign.