Preckwinkle defends soda-tax while some residents rally against it

SHARE Preckwinkle defends soda-tax while some residents rally against it

Pop tax opponents held a rally outside the Thompson Center on Sept. 12 — one of many public protests against the tax, which likely will be repealed this week. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

In light of dueling ads lambasting and praising the soda-tax and dismal polling numbers, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Tuesday joined doctors at Provident Hospital to stress why the beleaguered penny-per-ounce beverage tax was needed.

The physicians echoed what Preckwinkle said about the health benefits of the tax, which may jeopardize her political future.

We Ask America, which is owned by the Illinois Manufacturers Association, recently put out results of a poll that showed that 87 percent of county residents supported repealing the tax.

“I think we’ve got work to do in making our case for county government,” Preckwinkle said, talking about the importance of public health and safety which receive 87 percent of the county’s budget.

Had the tax not been implemented, many county employees would have been laid off, she said.

“That’s where our money goes — to our doctors and nurses and to our healthcare system and to state’s attorneys and public defenders and our correctional system.”

Ad campaigns have been airing on the issue, with opponents decrying the financial burden, while ads supporting the tax tout the benefits of consuming fewer soft drinks, while highlighting the issues of obesity and diabetes.

A measure to repeal the tax is on the agenda for Wednesday’s Cook County Commissioners board meeting. Since it is being introduced Wednesday, it must still go through the finance committee.

The committee, however, could be bypassed with the approval of nine commissioners.

The finance committee is scheduled to meet next month.

Earlier Tuesday grocers, restaurateurs and representatives from big soda companies rubbed elbows with county residents in a rally against the tax.

Preckwinkle, as well as Cook County Commissioner Stanley Moore, were mentioned frequently by speakers who feel that the extra charge is burdensome.

At the Provident news conference, Moore responded to the critiques.

“Nobody likes any type of taxes. My issue is that any time I hear someone say the president is not being truthful, that she can cut her way to solvency, that’s not true,” Moore said.

“We need revenue. I’ve watched my hospitals close. Whether it be beverage tax or any other tax, we need revenue.”

The tax, some attending the rally said, has literally driven away business to neighboring counties in Illinois and also across the state line to Indiana, taking that revenue with them.

“It’s unfair for taxpayers to continue to bear the brunt of the county’s inability to balance a budget,” said Jonathan Brooks, who lives in Englewood and was among those at the rally outside the Thompson Center in the Loop. “People are being forced to decide between their beverages and paying the light bill.”

Brooks said his family, as well as others he knows in his community, aren’t buying fewer beverages — they’re just buying them elsewhere.

That loss of customers was emphasized by other speakers at the rally. Grocers like Martin Sandoval, owner of several La Chiquita grocery stores in Cook County, said his sales have visibly gone down and he’s watching his beverage-based revenue go down the drain.

Opponents to the soda tax held a rally outside the Thompson Center Tuesday morning. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Opponents to the soda tax held a rally outside the Thompson Center Tuesday morning. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Tangie Holmes-Brown said that, as a team parent for her grandsons’ football team, she now drives an extra 10 minutes to Hammond, Indiana to get the Powerade and Gatorade her grandsons and their teammates need for games. The extra few minutes is nothing compared to the extra $20 to $30 per week she would spend in taxes for those sport drinks.

“Those drinks are super expensive now,” Holmes-Brown said. “That’s the thing that’s most affecting me. The cost is astronomical if you’re not used to it.”

Preckwinkle is slated to speak Wednesday morning at the City of Club of Chicago before commissioners introduce a plan to repeal the beverage tax.

Holmes-Brown, like many others, said the tax wasn’t about health but about raising revenue, and urged Preckwinkle to remember the everyday people she represents.

“We supported her in many of her endeavors and I would think that she could support us in stopping something that’s hurting us,” Holmes-Brown said. “It’s time for her to give back.”

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