The Finance Committee of the Cook County Board met Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017, to discuss the repeal of the Cook County sweetened beverage tax, a penny-per-ounce tax on the sale of bottled sweetened beverages as well as the syrup and powder used to produce sweetened beverages. Divisive from the outset, the tax was challenged and placed under a temporary restraining order until Aug. 2, 2017, when it took effect. After listening to many speak for and against the tax on Tuesday, the board voted to repeal it. The vote was ratified Oct. 11.
The tax has always had a strong proponent in Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who tipped the scale in its favor last November when the board was tied. Since then, in the face of mounting opposition, she has maintained the board would “aggressively defend” the tax. Yet many of her allies on the board have left her side, including Commissioner John P. Daley. On Oct. 6, Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison revealed that “he and 11 colleagues have reached an agreement to end the tax, giving them enough to override a veto” by Preckwinkle.
More than 150 people attended Tuesday’s meeting in hopes of sharing their opinions. Of those able to address the committee, some spoke in favor of the tax, some against it.
“Let’s deal with sugar”
Commissioner Richard R. Boykin brought up the amount of sugar in other products: 24 grams of sugar in one Twix; 17 grams of sugar per serving of Cheerios Protein. He said, “If we’re going to deal with sugar, let’s deal with sugar. Let’s not single out one industry and say they’re the cause of diabetes. …”
“The most effective public health approach”
The commissioner was followed by a member of the public who noted that soda consumption is down in Mexico, where a soda tax was instituted in Jan. 2014. He said, “50 percent of unnecessary calories come from sugary drinks. … By far the most effective public health approach is to increase the price” of these beverages. The owner of Pete’s Fresh Markets, speaking against the tax, confirmed that opinion by saying customers are buying significantly fewer sugary beverages in their 11 Cook County stores.
The final vote
After hearing statements for and against the tax on Tuesday, 15 commissioners voted to repeal it. Only Commissioner Larry Suffredin voted to maintain the tax, saying the revenue it provided was “essential.” On Wednesday, Suffredin was joined in opposing the repeal by Commissioner Jerry Butler.
In light of this decision, the commissioners must now “choose our direction on revenue,” in the words of Preckwinkle. “This contentious fight is now behind us, and what’s ahead of us is a very tough budget season,” she said after the final vote on Wednesday. She predicted some very painful cuts ahead, “now that 200 million in revenue has been taken away.”
However, she accepted the defeat graciously, saying in a statement that she is now focused “on what matters most: doing the hard work necessary to build a healthier, safer, and more efficient Cook County.”
The repeal of the tax will take effect Dec. 1, 2017. For more information, see the Sweetened Beverage Tax page on the Cook County website.