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Sweetened-Beverage Tax May Be On Its Way Out This Week

With enough votes, the Cook County Board is expected to begin the process of repealing the controversial sweetened-beverage tax on Tuesday.

Democratic Board President Toni Preckwinkle pushed the passage of the penny-per-ounce tax to balance the county’s budget earlier this year. A court challenge by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association delayed the tax from going into effect on July 1 as planned. Now, a little more than two months since the tax has been in effect, some commissioners are rallying for a repeal.

WBEZ reporter Michael Puente explains why the tax might be going away and what it might mean for the county’s budget.

What exactly will the commissioners vote on?

This ordinance to repeal the sweetened-beverage tax would go into effect Dec. 1. That gives commissioners a few months to decide how to deal with the loss of the revenue from the tax.

The repeal appears to have the support of 12 of the 17 commissioners, including Democrats and Republicans. If the finance committee passes the repeal, as expected, it still needs to be voted on again by the board of commissioners at its regular meeting on Wednesday.

What has happened over the past week that makes a repeal almost certain?

The momentum against the tax picked up last week, especially when Democratic Commissioner John Daley, a Preckwinkle supporter, announced he’s going to vote to repeal the tax.

Daley said his change of heart stems from hearing complaints from residents who are feeling “taxed out.” Residents have told him that they are overwhelmed with taxes for items and services like plastic bags, water bottles, and garbage pickup.

Even Preckwinkle’s floor leader, Democratic Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, is in favor of repealing the tax. But this domino effect really got going with John Daley.

Is Preckwinkle still predicting gloom and doom for the budget if the tax is repealed?  

Preckwinkle is predicting significant effects if the tax is repealed. In a budget speech last week, she said the county will have to cut next year’s proposed $5.4 billion budget by 11 percent. That accounts for about $200 million — the amount the pop tax is expected to bring in.

Those in favor of repealing the pop tax said there should be ways to make the budget cuts without resorting to layoffs or major service cuts, but Preckwinkle described the repeal as: “A step toward cutting essential services for our residents. A step toward layoffs. A step toward the kind of fiscal uncertainty that forces us to focus on plugging short time budget gaps instead of dedicating ourselves to finding long-term solutions.”

What might be the political fallout be for Preckwinkle?

The political fallout for Preckwinkle remains to be seen. So far, she doesn’t have a challenge next spring. Commissioner Richard Boykin said he will not run for Cook County Board president. It’s ironic that Preckwinkle is beating back criticism of this tax, sort of the way she railed against former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger several years ago when he pushed for a penny increase to the county sales tax.

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