The Cook County Board of Commissioners voted 15 to 1 on Oct. 11 to repeal the deeply unpopular sweetened beverage tax, which tacked on an additional penny per ounce onto certain soft drinks. The rollback goes into effect on Dec. 1.
The tax was designed to help fill a $1.8 billion hole in the county’s budget. The office of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle — who was the tie-breaking vote in favor of the tax back when it passed the board in November 2016 — estimated that the tax could generate $200 million a year in revenue.
Preckwinkle, and other supporters of the tax, also argued that the measure could be a boon to the health of county residents by discouraging the consumption of drinks that have are correlated with obesity and other health problems.
On Oct. 10, after she realized that there were enough votes to overwhelmingly repeal the tax, Preckwinkle issued a statement expressing her disappointment with the outcome.
“As I outlined last week, it is up to the commissioners to choose our direction on revenue, and I respect their authority to do so,” she stated. “Now, together, we must chart a new course toward the eighth consecutive balanced budget of my tenure as board president.”
In a joint statement issued the same day, the Illinois Public Health Institute and the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity decried the repeal measure as a “bad deal for county residents as taxpayers will continue to cover the rising costs of treating the chronic diseases caused by drinking too many sugary beverages while also seeing cuts to healthcare services for our most vulnerable communities.”
But critics of the sweetened beverage tax described it as a regressive tax that would disproportionately affect lower income residents while hurting county businesses.
Mike Nutley, the owner of Ed’s Way Food Mart, 946 Beloit Ave. in Forest Park, said that his pop sales dropped by 20 percent, dragging down total sales along with it.
Nutley said he lost customers who, instead of paying the tax, would shop at stores in DuPage County.
Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st), whose district includes Forest Park, expressed his approval for the repeal vote in a statement released on Oct. 11. Boykin, who voted against the tax last year, was among the most vocal supporters of repeal.
“The people have spoken and I am glad that my colleagues listened to their voices by repealing this regressive tax that was bad for families and bad for the business community,” Boykin said.