Cook County Board Overwhelmingly Votes To Repeal Soda Tax

CHICAGO (CBS) — Cook County’s soda tax has officially lost its fizzle. Commissioners voted Wednesday afternoon to repeal the widely unpopular tax, effective Dec. 1.

While soda lovers rejoice, politicians have to scramble. CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reports on a daunting task: how to replace the $200 million in lost revenue.

“I know that if you’re in public life, you have to make difficult choices,” said County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Though conciliatory in tone, Preckwinkle never said she had made a mistake in backing the penny-an-ounce sweetened beverage tax.

The 15-2 vote reflected the overwhelming opposition the tax faced among Cook County residents. Recent polls showed more than 85 percent of people in the county were against the tax.

The only two commissioners to vote against the tax repeal were Evanston Democrat Larry Suffredin and Chicago Democrat Jerry Butler.

Commissioner Sean Morrison led the repeal fight.

“It was the citizens who made this. The citizens who made the phone calls, who wrote the letters. Without their involvement, this likely would not have passed,” Morrison said.

And Preckwinkle conceded: may voters are just taxed out.

“There was just tax fatigue. This was the most recent tax enacted in a long series and I bore the brunt of that,” she said.

Preckwinkle had defended the tax, saying it was necessary to fund essential county services, but has said she will work with the board to balance the budget without the estimated $200 million in annual revenue.

Preckwinkle said she offered the sweetened beverage tax to close a $200 million budget gap. Now that the County Board has repealed the tax, she said the consequences will be dire.

“Of course there will be layoffs,” she said. “I can’t predict at the moment, because as I said the president controls 8 percent of the county budget.”

As for specific budget cuts or alternative revenue sources, Preckwinkle said she’ll leave those to the County Board and elected county office heads to determine.

“While we can give the separately elected a target that they need to reach, I can’t mandate line-by-line what they do,” she said.

The question now: how to replace the $200-million in revenue the tax would have provided?

CBS: You’re talking about new revenue, new fees, new taxes?

“I do not believe we can continue to provide services and not lay people off without looking at new revenue,” said Chuy Garcia.

But tax opponents claim there’s so much fat, layoffs aren’t needed.

“The administration would like us to think layoffs are necessary because that’s always the code word for scare tactics,” said Commissioner Richard Boykin.

“I think he will discover otherwise as he works with all of us to try to balance the budget,” Preckwinkle said.

Preckwinkle’s office controls less than 10 percent of the budget. The rest is spent by other elected county office holders – the sheriff, state’s attorney, county clerk and others.

Preckwinkle will have to negotiate with them and the commissioners to bring the budget into balance by Dec. 1 when the beverage tax ends.

The sweetened beverage tax will remain in place through the end of the county’s current fiscal year, and will go away beginning Dec. 1.

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