Commissioners voted Tuesday afternoon to get rid of the tax that has angered consumers and businesses, but will now lead to layoffs in county government.
The vote was 15 to 1 after the finance committee meeting Tuesday. It will be formalized at Wednesday’s full county board meeting and that number is more than enough to withstand a possible veto from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
The calls for repeal were countered with concerns about the impact losing the projected $200 million in revenue will have on county services. Elected leaders made a last ditch effort to keep the tax at the meeting.
“To meet an 11 percent cut we would be subject to massive layoffs. My office in its present form would no longer exist. To meet the target number, we would have to eliminate approximately 134 positions from my 680 budgeted staff, or about 20 percent of my office. The effects would be nothing short of devastating,” said Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli.
With a packed board room and hundreds more waiting outside in the hall, the committee once again heard from businesses about the loss of revenue and health advocates about the dangers of sugary drinks.
“I’m about 10 percent of where my soda sales used to be. It’s really hurt me deeply in the pocket and my workers also. I’m very happy you are understanding this and going to repeal this tax,” said Ken Blum, a blind vendor.
“I don’t see how this repealing this tax creates a healthier community. I think you’re going to see — I think this is a recipe for disaster,” said Julie Mirostaw with the American Heart Association.
After dozens of speakers, the commissioners cast their vote. The final tally an overwhelming 15-1 for the repeal.
“I believe what we heard over the last ten and eleven months is that our residents are fed up, and they finally said enough. Tax fatigue has sunk in,” said Cook County Board Commissioner Sean Morrison.
“Let me tell you I’m overjoyed and elated that this tax is going to go away. I mean the people in my district by an overwhelming majority don’t want this tax,” said Commissioner Richard Boykin.
After the vote, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle released a statement that said, in part, “Today the board exercised its collective will and set in motion a repeal of the sweetened beverage tax we approved last year. 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.”
Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce acting president and CEO Michael Reever also released a statement saying, “The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce applauds the vote today by the Commissioners to repeal the sweetened beverage tax. Chicagoland businesses and consumers have faced a cumulative impact of new taxes, fees and regulations which have taken its toll. This was the tipping point. We are committed to working with the county towards policies that create jobs, opportunity and revenue for the county,”
The vote sets the stage for a final vote on Wednesday to repeal the tax, which aroused the ire of consumers and retailers who say their businesses have been adversely affected.
The tax passed last year after Board President Toni Preckwinkle cast the deciding vote after commissioners deadlocked on the measure. Preckwinkle has said there could be an 11 percent budget cut resulting in layoffs with repeal of the tax.
Preckwinkle has not indicated whether she will veto the repeal measure. However, those supporting repeal say they have enough votes to override a veto.
The repeal will not take effect until December 1, which is when the new budget is set to go into effect.
BALANCING THE BUDGET WITHOUT THE TAX
Now comes the challenging part, how to balance next year’s budget without the $200 million the tax was expected to provide.
The vote to repeal the sweetened beverage tax was one spawned by revolt from people and business owners across the county, many who packed the board meeting Tuesday afternoon.
“I have heard from the people in my district overwhelmingly, the business owners, the retailers, as well union members in this building who are opposed to this tax,” said Commissioner John Daley.
The much maligned tax, which passed last November when Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle broke an 8-to-8 tie went down in flames in a 15-to-one vote.
“I am proud to be the only person who will vote no today, thank you,” said Commissioner Larry Suffredin.
But with elected officials talking before the vote of the dire consequences of the repeal, there is a tough reality ahead for commissioners who somehow must fill a $200 million budget gap created by the soda tax revenue going away.
“We still will face a revenue challenge to ensure that we provide services to the neediest in Cook County, whether it’s the health and hospital system, whether it’s public safety,” said Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
“We owe it to the taxpayers of Cook County to work together and close the 2018 budget gap by enacting long-needed fiscal reforms not by raising more taxes,” said Commissioner Boykin.
But for business owners and the customers they serve and were losing because of the tax, Tuesday was a big win.
“Very much relieved, and I hope we don’t see it again,” said Culver’s Restaurant Owner Tim Banks.
For now the beverage tax will remain in place. It won’t formally go away until the new budget year begins December 1, but the cuts needed to balance the 2018 budget will mean a lot of layoffs in county offices.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Cook County officials vote 15-1 to repeal sugary drink tax – WLS-TV