Like many people, you may have stopped to pick up an energy drink or soda to help you wake up. If you bought that drink in Cook County, your receipt shows an extra charge for the penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened-beverages like coffee, tea, soda, and sports drinks.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who championed the tax, has said the revenue is much-needed. But while health advocates, including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have supported the tax, some business owners are downright sour on it.
The first step to repeal the controversial tax started Wednesday at the Cook County Board’s monthly meeting.
WBEZ reporter Michael Puente breaks down the sweetened-beverage tax and the plans to repeal it.
How did Cook County get this tax in the first place?
Democratic Commissioner Richard Boykin introduced a measure Wednesday to repeal the tax. The board didn’t take up the measure, but will debate it at its finance committee next month.
The board approved the sweetened-beverage tax by a narrow vote last November as a way to balance the county’s budget. It was supposed to go into effect July 1, but a court challenge by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association prevented that.
A restraining order was lifted, and the county began collecting the tax Aug. 2. Since it’s implementation, small grocers and restaurants have said the tax is hurting business. They want it repealed — and so do some of the commissioners.
Who gave testimony at Wednesday’s meeting and what did they say?
There was nearly three hours of testimony from at least 50 folks who came to give their opinion. Small business owners, health advocates, clergy, union folks, county workers — all stating why, or why not, they support the tax.
How has Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle responded to the backlash?
Preckwinkle said Cook County needs the added revenue. She also said she’s concerned about the health consequences of children drinking too much sweetened drinks, like soda. She’s gotten some support on that front. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has spent millions of his own money to pay for ads promoting the tax to curb soda consumption.
What did Commissioner Richard Boykin say about the chance of repealing the tax?
He thinks it can be repealed, and that there will be enough votes to override a veto. Boykin said the county can balance its budget without the tax, and that talk of layoffs, like at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, is a false narrative.
What should we expect next?
As far as next steps, the finance committee is set to hear this next month. Eventually, it could be voted to the full County Board, and that’s when we’ll see if there’s enough votes to repeal it and possibly override a veto.