By JOSEPH PHILLIPS
With nearly 90 percent of Cook County residents in opposition to the beverage tax, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle warned of steep cuts to come if the controversial pop tax is repealed Tuesday.
“It’s not the issue that solves the budget deficit,” said Preckwinkle about the issues sweet beverages cause such as obesity, heart disease and tooth decay. “It’s the revenue.”
Preckwinkle said that the county raises money in a variety of ways, some through property taxes, sales taxes, taxes on cigarettes and taxes on alcohol, and that a beverage tax is just one that the county imposes to meet its budget obligations.
“I think it’s easier for most people to understand where their city dollars go,” Preckwinkle said. “For the county, it’s quite different.”
Preckwinkle said that almost half of the county’s budget expenses go toward healthcare and public safety. With 46 percent allocated to health and hospital systems and 41 percent allocated to public safety.
“Stroger and Providence are our two hospitals,” Preckwinkle said. “We have 16 clinics and 16 ambulatory clinics. With mostly primary care with a few specialty care clinics.”
Preckwinkle said that the county currently runs a Medicaid expansion program called County Care, which provides patient care for 140 thousand people and will increase to 225 thousand people by the end of this year if results change in the way the state runs its program.
“That’s the Medicaid expansion program that is a part of the Affordable Care Act where people 19-64 get health care coverage through the federal government based on the state eligible voter requirements, in addition to income eligibility,” Preckwinkle said.
Preckwinkle said she imposed the beverage tax because of needed revenue and an answer for public health benefits. She said before imposing the tax in Cook County, the tax was already imposed in other parts of the country such as Philadelphia and most recently, Berkley, Calif. and Seattle.
“It’s a movement around the country and at the time I quoted the World Health Organization back in October of 2016, a study recommended that nations, states, and local unions of governments put taxes on sweet and beverages because of the negative effects it has on health,” Preckwinkle said.
Preckwinkle said that it’s more of a global issue than it is a local issue and that countries such as Mexico have already imposed a nationwide sweet beverage tax.
When it comes to taxing sweetened beverages, Preckwinkle said a result of irrefutable scientific evidence that shows the consumption of sweetened beverage healthy and that the county’s health and hospital system spends about 200 million dollars a year treating obesity, diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay, which are directly impacted by sugar.
She explained that in spite of all the different challenges that may come her way during the March 2018 Democratic Primary, she intends to run for re-election.
She also said that she would appeal should legislators decide to vote against the tax on Tuesday.
“It means we will have a $200 million hole in our budget and we’re really challenged in terms of delivering health care services, and our criminal justice reforms,” Preckwinkle said. “We’ve worked hard to reduce the number of people in our jails. So let me start with whose in jail it’s basically black and brown poor people.”