Cook County Board Committee finalizes vote on sweetened beverage tax

By JOSEPH PHILLIPS
Staff Writer

After voting 15-1 on Tuesday, Oct. 10, following a nearly four-hour session, the Cook County Board Committee finalized its vote to repeal the sweetened beverage tax with a 15 – 2 vote, on Wednesday, Oct. 11.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said it is now up to the Cook County Commissioners to decide how to fill the $200 million gap in the $5.4 billion budget.

“Today the board exercised its collective will and set in motion a
repeal of the sweetened beverage tax we approved last year,” Preckwinkle said. “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. Now, together, we must chart a new course toward the eighth consecutive balanced budget of my tenure as board president.”

The sweetened beverage tax is set to officially end on Dec. 1, 2017.

Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer (D-10), who voted in favor of repealing the sweetened beverage tax, said in a written statement released shortly after Tuesday’s vote that she is committed to working with Preckwinkle and her colleagues “to approach the 2018 budget line-by-line and find alternate ways to close the budget gap.”

Preckwinkle said that she was very disappointed with today’s
outcome but she is grateful for the public health advocates of the American Heart Association and the Illinois Public Health Institute, who have supported the tax every step of the way.

“I am thankful for the talented professionals at the Cook County
Health and Hospitals System who are committed to promoting better
health outcomes for residents across the county, especially in our
vulnerable communities,” Preckwinkle said.

The tax, which was projected to raise $200 million annually, raised only $16 million from Aug. 3 to Sept. 20, approximately $2 million less than expected, according to Frank Shuftan, a spokesman for Preckwinkle.

The final vote made by the committee on Wednesday, brought an end to an unfavorable tax that was rejected by nearly 90 percent of Cook County residents according to polls.

Preckwinkle warned commissioners on Thursday, Oct. 5, that they would be forced to make steep cuts across the county to make up for the lost revenue officials counted on from the tax to balance next year’s $5.4 billion budget.

“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 in an interview with the
Herald on Monday.

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-13) voted against repealing the sweetened beverage tax, while 15 members of the board voted to repeal it, ensuring it would withstand a veto by Preckwinkle.

Cook County Commissioner Jerry Butler (D-3), whose district includes Hyde Park, was not present for the vote on Tuesday but voted in favor of a financial committee report that included the sweetened beverage tax on Wednesday.

As of Herald press time, Butler did not return calls for comment.

j.phillips@hpherald.com