CHICAGO — Three hundred Cook County employees were laid off Friday as officials scramble to make up for the now blocked "pop tax" that had been set to add a penny per ounce to the cost of sweetened drinks.
Another 600 vacant positions will not be filled, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle said, adding that more employees may be laid off from the Cook County Sheriff's Department and from the Cook County courts.
"I regret that these actions are necessary — and I deeply regret the impact they have on individual employees," Preckwinkle said. "One of the main reasons I proposed the modest tax on sweetened beverages last year was specifically to avoid these kind of cuts."
The tax had been expected to bring in $68 million through the end of 2017 and $200 million in 2018. To fill that hole, Preckwinkle ordered 10 percent cuts across the county.
Preckwinkle warned earlier this week that as many as 1,100 county employees could be laid off.
Sheriff Tom Dart blasted the layoffs on Twitter.
These mass layoffs throughout Cook County will be highly detrimental to my ability to help keep our residents safe https://t.co/z5D6Aa2AOo— Tom Dart (@TomDart) July 14, 2017
A court hearing on whether the tax should be blocked permanently is set for July 21.
Tanya Triche Dawood, vice president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association that brought the lawsuit with several store owners, told reporters that it was "absolutely necessary" that the "unconstitutional" tax be blocked because it treats sweetened drinks sold in a bottle differently than sweetened drinks prepared to order.
Dubbed the "pop tax," the fee — approved by the Cook County Board of Commissioners by one vote last November — also applies to hundreds of beverages beyond soft drinks.
The beverage industry lobby, which opposes the tax, has circulated a sample list of affected drinks, which runs 11 pages. The list includes juice drinks, sports drinks like Gatorade, flavored water with zero calories or sweeteners, iced tea, pop and lemonade.