Cook County Beverage Tax heads down the drain

BeverageTaxFinanceCommittee

 

Cook County commissioners, including Sean Morrison (closest to camera) discuss on Tuesday a repeal of the Sweetened Beverage Tax.

Supplied photo

 

 

The controversial Cook County Sweetened Beverage Tax is scheduled to end following yesterday’s anticipated repeal of the controversial legislation.

On Tuesday, the Cook County Board of Commissioners’ Finance Committee voted overwhelmingly 15 to 1 to support Commissioner Sean Morrison’s ordinance to repeal the tax.

Yesterday, after The Regional’s press time, the full County Board was expected to formally repeal the tax. Following repeal, the tax is set to disappear on Dec. 1.

“I am pleased with today’s outcome. I would like to thank my colleagues for working together so diligently and amicably to come to an agreement on such an important issue to our constituents and to Cook County,” said Morrison of the 17th District, the largest in Cook County

A Palos Park resident, Morrison is Chair of the Cook County Republican Party.

The tax was approved late last year after a divided County Board vote in which President Toni Preckwinkle cast the deciding vote. The tax went into effect this past August and mandated one cent-per ounce on all sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages sold at the retail level in Cook County.

Implementation of the new tax has caused confusion and outrage among some retailers. It also has angered many Cook County residents, some of whom are traveling to stores in other counties to buy groceries.

Retailers in the Will County communities of Mokena, Lockport and Homer Glen have anecdotally reported spikes in sales of regular and diet soda, sports drinks, lemonade and other sweetened beverages.

Local officials, too, expressed their displeasure at the tax, citing a loss of business within their respective communities.

Last week, as reported in The Regional News. Palos Heights Mayor Bob Straz was preparing to dispatch a letter to county commissioners urging them to repeal the tax.

“It’s detrimental to businesses and to small businesses especially,” he said, “and also to the residents.”

In Orland Park, Mayor Keith Pekau was particularly public, early on, with his disapproval of the tax.

The sweetened drink tax imposed on Cook County communities—especially those that border collar counties—will have will have devastating effects on local businesses,” he said.

“The media has been filled with stories of small businesses fearing the impact the tax will have on their restaurants, neighborhood grocery stores and diners. Now that it has been enacted, businesses both large and small are seeing the impact that they feared.”

Opponents of the tax pointed out that when people travelled outside Cook County to buy their beverages, they’d likely buy the rest of their groceries at the same time, shortchanging Cook County retailers even more.

Entering Tuesday’s hearing, Morrison said that there were at least 12 commissioners who would vote for repeal. With that many votes secured, it would prevent Preckwinkle from vetoing the measure. Elven votes were needed to override a veto.

He spoke publicly in Palos Park recently about his efforts to derail the tax, saying “From the time it passed a year ago, it’s a completely different scenario now. I think a lot of the commissioners who voted to put the tax in have realized it was a very poor choice, not only from the public outcry but also because it’s a terrible policy.”

As Tuesday’s hearing continued past the three-hour mark, three more commissioners also voted for repeal.

Larry Suffredin (D-13th) was the lone commissioner to vote for the tax. Commissioner Jerry Butler (D-3rd) was absent from the meeting.

Public debate about the tax was amped up further when former New York City Michael Bloomberg voiced support for the effort, which was purported to also be focused on reducing obesity. He also vowed financial support to defeat elected officials who opposed the tax.

Preckwinkle had proposed a new budget last Thursday that relied on $200 million a year she said would be raised through the beverage tax. Preckwinkle had warned that eliminating the beverage tax would result in 11 percent county personnel cuts across the board.

The 2018 Cook County Budget process begins on October 23. The annual process typically lasts approximately four weeks.

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