County Finance Committee set to vote on soda tax repeal

on Oct10

10 October 2017 | 3:17 pm

The Finance Committee of the Cook County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to vote Tuesday on repealing a controversial penny-per-ounce tax on soda and other sugary drinks.

Then, on Wednesday, the full board would cast the final vote on the matter.

The tax had passed last year after Board President Toni Preckwinkle cast the deciding vote after commissioners deadlocked on the measure.

Last week, after months of wrangling, a deal was reached to rescind the tax — but let it stay in effect through the end of the county fiscal year on Nov. 30.

In announcing the deal, several commissioners said enough members had switched their votes to ensure they could override a Preckwinkle veto. That’s a major setback to Preckwinkle, who has argued that the tax was needed to avoid major cuts to the public health and safety sectors.

Dueling ad campaigns have argued that the tax is either an onerous burden on consumers that is hurting small businesses — or a way to provide desperately needed funds and promote healthy choices and combat child obesity.

An overflow crowd at Tuesday’s Finance Committee meeting, at which a vote to repeal the Cook County sweetened beverage tax was scheduled. | Rachel Hinton/Sun-Times

Commissioners John Daley, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Stanley Moore, D-Chicago, who were once in favor of the tax, acknowledged last week they have since changed their stance.

Another commissioner, Dennis Deer, D-Chicago, who joined the board after the tax was approved, also said he will vote against it.

After repeal commissioners will need to figure out how to fill the roughly $200 million hole they’ve blown into the budget.

Preckwinkle has already said there could be an 11 percent cut across the board if the tax was repealed.

Garcia said in a statement Friday that his new stance came after he heard from families and small businesses about the affect of the tax.

“When we voted on the soda tax, I made a tough decision that I believed was best for Cook County,” Garcia said. “In order to repeal and phase out the soda tax in a responsible way, I have decided to co-sponsor legislation that will mitigate the effect of an immediate repeal on vital county services and allow for a more orderly transition.”

Moore said his decision to support the repeal came in the past week, but said it was “always on my mind” thanks to hundreds of calls, letters and emails from his constituents.

“Overwhelmingly people in the fourth district have said ‘we’re taxed out, we can’t keep doing this,’” Moore said. “If my community is saying we can’t do another tax, we’ll have to look elsewhere [for revenue].”

Moore said “elsewhere” could mean closing or combining court houses in his district and the Oak Forest Health Center and moving patients and employees to Provident Hospital on the city’s South Side where last month he appeared there with Preckwinkle, in support of the tax.

With the repeal going into effect in December, Moore said commissioners should have time to figure out where they can downsize.

The decision, and Commissioner Sean Morrison’s, R-Palos Park, substitute amendment, were submitted earlier Friday. With 12 commissioners now supporting the repeal, the measure is veto-proof; state law calls for a three-fifths majority.

“This will make Tuesday a much easier day,” said Morrison. “People will be able to relax now. This gives us some time to focus on the 2018 budget.”

Others supporting Morrison’s amendment include, Richard Boykin, D-Oak Park, John Fritchey, D-Chicago, Tim Schneider, R-Bartlett, Jeffrey Tobolski, D-McCook, Peter Silvestri, R-Elmwood Park, Bridget Gainer, D-Chicago, and Gregg Goslin, R-Glenview.

The tax narrowly passed in November — Preckwinkle cast a tie-breaking vote when commissioners ended up in a deadlock, voting 8-8. Initially set to go into effect in July, a court battle stalled the tax until August.

Ads and other material related to the tax brought in big money from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the American Beverage Association. Protests largely sponsored or hosted by the Can the Tax Coalition spotlighted small business owners who said they were watching their sales go down the drain because of the extra charge.

Polls released since the tax’s Aug. 2 implementation show over 90 percent of the county’s residents against the tax. Other polls show dwindling support for Preckwinkle and commissioners who voted for it. The commissioners and Preckwinkle are up for re-election next year.

In a statement, the Can the Tax Coalition said, “common sense has prevailed and a super majority of commissioners have listened and now support the tax’s repeal. The vote can’t come soon enough.”

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