Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Wednesday acknowledged her fellow board members are under “immense pressure” from “big soda” to scrap the county’s controversial pop tax, but urged them to “stand strong.”
“It’s about whether or not we want Cook County to be healthier, safer and more efficient or if we’re willing to go backwards and let Cook County be sicker, less safe and less efficient,” Preckwinkle said at the City Club of Chicago Wednesday morning.
Opponents of the tax introduced a measure during Wednesday’s board meeting to repeal the tax on sweetened beverages. It was referred to the board’s Finance Committee.
Last year, Preckwinkle cast the deciding vote to impose the penny-an-ounce tax after the 16-member board deadlocked on the issue. At the time, Preckwinkle said the money was needed to plug a $174 million hole in the county budget.
If the tax is repealed, she said Wednesday, health care in Cook County will suffer.
“A vote to repeal is a vote to fire front-line healthcare providers — doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals who help serve our most vulnerable patients,” Preckwinkle said.
Commissioners supporting a repeal should “identify those programs and services they intend to cut to make up the $200 million in revenue lost,” she said.
Talking to reporters after Wednesday’s City Club meeting, Preckwinkle was asked about prominent South Side pastor Michael Pfleger and his opposition on social media to the tax.
“I made my case to him,” Preckwinkle said curtly, adding, “It’s a conversation between the two of us.”
On Tuesday, Pfleger tweeted: “I have NEVER been a fan of the Pop tax and hope it is repealed.”
The tax has prompted dueling ad campaigns, with opponents decrying the burden on average consumers, and on businesses facing a loss of customers. Proponents have touted the health effects of sugary beverages more than the revenue raised, but Preckwinkle’s comments seemed to touch on both areas.
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman who tried to ban supersized soft drinks in that city, has bankrolled a slew of ads slamming the health dangers of soda, linking them to diabetes and obesity. An aide told the Sun-Times that Bloomberg is willing to spend “whatever it takes” to ensure the political survival of those who baked the tax.
“I’m very grateful he’s engaging in the battle in Cook County,” Preckwinkle said Wednesday.
The Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the American Beverage Association are among the trade groups funding efforts to repeal the tax, with rallies and ads that often focus on the effect the higher prices have on consumers.
Preckwinkle said it is unfortunate that people in low-income communities are “pawns” in “big soda’s … losing fight to maintain revenue.”