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Repeal Pop Tax And We'll Have To Cut, Close And Borrow, Preckwinkle Warns

By Heather Cherone | October 5, 2017 11:03am
 Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said a reversal of the pop tax would prompt steep budget cuts to make up for lost revenue. A vote to repeal the tax could come Tuesday.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said a reversal of the pop tax would prompt steep budget cuts to make up for lost revenue. A vote to repeal the tax could come Tuesday.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

COUNTY BUILDING — Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle warned commissioners set to vote Tuesday on whether to repeal the 2-month-old "pop tax" that they would be forced to make steep cuts across the county to make up for the lost revenue.

The repeal of the tax that added a penny per ounce to the cost of sweetened drinks and created an uproar could result in the closure of community health centers, delay property tax bills and force the county to borrow money to purchase "new election equipment to protect our voting systems from cyber attacks," Preckwinkle planned to tell commissioners in her budget address Wednesday.

"I've often heard others say there's still a significant amount of fat to be cut," Preckwinkle was expected to tell commissioners. "But to those people, I remind you we already have shrunk our workforce by more than 10 percent, closed budget gaps of $1.8 billion and reduced our indebtedness by 11 percent."

A vote to repeal the tax could come on Tuesday.

County Board Commissioner Richard Boykin, who has led the charge against the tax, 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 2-liter bottle and 72 cents to the cost of a six-pack.

The tax also applies to hundreds of premade sweetened beverages besides pop. Sweetened drinks prepared to order at restaurants and other locations are not subject to the tax.

If the County 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 her 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.

"A vote to repeal is a vote against promoting better health outcomes for people in communities across the county, especially our most vulnerable," according to Preckwinkle's remarks. "Because taking money away likely results in a significant reduction in critical, community-based medical services, essential health care workers losing their jobs, and shifting our focus away from preventive care. This comes at a great cost, because treating acute and chronic illnesses is more expensive than preventing them."

In November, the County Board voted 8-8 on the tax expected to generate $200 million, with County Board 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.

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.

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.