Cook County Soda Tax Faces Likely Repeal Next Week

CHICAGO (CBS) — Cook County commissioners who have gone sour on the unpopular sweetened beverage tax appeared on the verge of getting rid of it, after three more members of the county board announced Friday they’ll vote to repeal it.

After Commissioner John Daley (D-Chicago) announced Thursday he was switching sides and would vote to repeal the tax, Commissioners Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-Chicago) and Stanley Moore (D-Chicago) — who also originally voted for it — followed suit and changed their votes on Friday. Commissioner Dennis Deer (D-Chicago), who wasn’t on the board last year, also came out against the tax.

Commissioner Sean Morrison (R-Palos Park) has unveiled a new plan to repeal the tax, effective Dec. 1. The measure has been sponsored by a total of 12 board members – one more than they would need to override a possible veto by Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who has fought hard to keep the penny-per-ounce tax on soda and other sugary drinks.

The board was split 8-8 over the tax last year, and Preckwinkle cast the tie-breaking vote to pass it. The tax went into effect in August, after it was delayed by a month due to an attempt to block it in court.

Morrison said his colleagues came to realize most of their constituents oppose the tax.

“The citizens of Cook County don’t want the tax, and they have spoken in a chorus that’s been so loud, it’s been unprecedented; and we really need to listen to them,” he said.

Garcia asked that the repeal be delayed until the start of the next fiscal year, so Morrison’s repeal plan would keep the tax in place through Nov. 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

On Thursday, Preckwinkle urged commissioners to stand by the tax as she presented her budget plan for next year. She said the county was relying on $200 million in revenue from the tax next year, and without that money officials would be forced to make dramatic cuts to vital services, including health care and public safety.

Opponents of the tax have suggested the county can make up for the lost revenue largely through eliminating vacant positions, holding the line on salary increases, and implementing a hiring freeze. However, Morrison’s proposal does not outline any specifics for spending cuts.

“I’m committed to working in a bipartisan and constructive manner with all of my board colleagues, President Preckwinkle and her administration to take the needed steps to find the fiscal solutions to create and balanced and responsible 2018 Budget for Cook County,” Morrison said.

Although the repeal plan has enough votes to survive a veto from Preckwinkle, she was not conceding defeat yet on Friday.

“President Preckwinkle mapped out for commissioners yesterday the two divergent paths they face for FY 18. The Finance Committee vote is Tuesday and final Board action would not come until Wednesday. We’ll withhold any further comment until that time,” spokesman Frank Shuftan said in an email.

Morrison said the tax was sold under false pretenses that it would improve health.

“The whole health was just a farcical narrative that was used to try and fool people. I mean, it was just disingenuous to begin with.

Morrison said revenue from the tax has fallen far short of the Preckwinkle administration’s projections already. The county expected to get about $9 million a month from the tax, but Morrison said only $300,000 was collected in August, which means consumers either weren’t buying soda, or were going to other counties to do so.

The Finance Committee was scheduled to vote on the repeal plan on Tuesday, and a full board vote could follow on Wednesday.

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