COUNTY BUILDING — On Thursday, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle warned of steep cuts to come if the controversial pop tax is repealed next week.
But opponents of of the penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages now say they have the support they need to kill the tax.
On Friday, commissioner Jesus G. Garcia said "it has now become clear that there are enough votes to repeal this revenue measure."
"When we voted on the soda tax, I made a tough decision that I believed was best for Cook County," Garcia said. "I heard from families and small businesses about the impact of the tax in our community, as well as many folks in support of the tax for its health benefits. I heard you."
Additionally, commissioners Stanley Moore and Dennis Deer said they would vote to repeal as well, according to the Sun-Times.
County Board Commissioner John Daley on Thursday told the Tribune he'd been listening to his South Side constituents and decided to vote for a repeal.
“It’s a lot of taxes they’ve been hit with,” Daley told the paper. “It’s every economic group. It’s every ethnic group. It’s every part of the district.”
Frank Shuftan, spokesman for Preckwinkle, said her office would withhold comment on the defections until after Tuesday, when the finance committee will vote on the matter, followed by the full board vote Wednesday.
The tax, which was projected to raise $200 million every year, has raised $16 million in the first two months since it went into effect, Shuftan said. That's about half of what was projected.
“Nearly 90 percent of Cook County residents oppose the beverage tax and support its repeal," the Can the Tax Coalition said Thursday. "Today’s announcement makes clear the majority of county commissioners will vote to repeal this damaging tax next Tuesday and Wednesday."
County Board Commissioner Richard Boykin, who has led the charge against the tax, proposes 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.
But a repeal of the tax that has created such an uproar could result in the closure of community health centers, delay property tax bills and force the county to borrow money to buy "new election equipment to protect our voting systems from cyber attacks," Preckwinkle warned Thursday.
"I've often heard others say there's still a significant amount of [budget] fat to be cut," Preckwinkle said. "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."
The tax 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," Preckwinkle's said. "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, 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 said he would have voted for 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.