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'Pop Tax' Repeal Comes Up Short; County Board Postpones Showdown

By Heather Cherone | September 13, 2017 2:23pm | Updated on September 15, 2017 11:38am
 Pop Tax
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DOWNTOWN — The Cook County Board of Commissioners stopped short Wednesday of repealing the 6-week-old "pop tax," which added a penny per ounce to the cost of sweetened drinks and created an uproar.

Instead, commissioners agreed to send a measure repealing the tax that went into effect Aug. 2 to a committee for consideration, setting up a showdown over the measure on Oct. 10.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle defended the tax in an appearance before the City Club of Chicago, where she told wavering commissioners that a vote to repeal the measure would be "a vote to fire frontline health care providers: doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who help serve our most vulnerable patients."

Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin, who has led the charge against the tax and is considering challenging Preckwinkle's bid for re-election next year, has proposed cutting spending and eliminating vacant positions to make up for the revenue generated by the tax, which added 68 cents to the price of a two-liter bottle and a six-pack by 72 cents.

In November, the Cook County Board voted 8-8 over the tax expected to generate $200 million, with Commissioner Robert Steele not present for the vote because of an illness. Preckwinkle broke the tie to impose the tax, which was challenged in court by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

The tax also applies to hundreds of ready-made sweetened beverages in addition to soda. Sweetened drinks prepared to order at restaurants and other locations are not subject to the tax.

A judge initially blocked the tax from taking effect, prompting Preckwinkle to lay off 300 employees. The same judge later allowed the tax to go into effect.

Steele died in June, and was replaced by Dennis Deer, a West Side businessman who has said he would have voted for the tax.

In order to repeal the tax, at least one Cook County commissioner would have to switch sides.

If the board votes to repeal the tax, Preckwinkle could veto that measure to keep the tax in place. It would take at least 11 votes and perhaps as many as 14 votes to override the president's veto.

The debate over the pop tax has blanketed Chicago area airwaves, with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg bankrolling $5 million worth of ads touting the health benefits of reducing the amount of sugar consumed by county residents.