The price of pop is going up.
The Cook County Board of Commissioners on Thursday narrowly passed a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages, but only after Board President Toni Preckwinkle came in at the last minute to cast a tie-breaking vote.
Preckwinkle said the new tax is necessary to help avoid devastating layoffs and close a $174.3 million budget shortfall for next year.
The tax — which the beverage industry strongly opposes — will go into effect on July 1, 2017. It means the cost of a 99 cent can of soda would increase to $1.11; a 20-ounce bottle, from $2.19 to $2.39.
That tax, first reported in the Chicago Sun-Times, covers carbonated soft drinks, whether sweetened with sugar or a substitute such as aspartame, sports drinks and energy drinks. Fruit drinks also will be taxed, but 100 percent fruit juice drinks are exempt.
More than 80 Cook County residents were on the list of speakers for the meeting that would decide the new tax’s fate. Supporters of the tax wore red shirts and carried signs that said “fight to keep our communities healthy.” Several of those opposing the tax wore “Pepsico” shirts and carried signs that said, “Protect our jobs.” The room was filled with spectators from both camps.
“We have an epidemic of diabetes in my community today, an epidemic that gets worse and worse every single day,” said Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), who was among the supporters at the meeting.
He said he has experienced the effects of the sugary drinks first-hand in his community and in his personal life.
“I’m asking you today to put our working families first, stand up for good health in Cook County,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “For pennies more per day, just pennies, we can ensure that we have a healthier county. We can ensure that we have a balanced budget that continues to fund the vital services that our residents need, that continues to put working families first.”
Representatives for the American Heart Association, doctors and former teachers spoke in favor of the tax. The health of the county and the county’s children was their main point of argument.
The opposition, including business owners, beverage company workers and concerned citizens spoke out against the tax, citing their concerns of losing business and jobs as a reason to keep the tax from being implemented.
Claudia Rodriguez, executive director of the Illinois Beverage Association, said there were still too many questions to be answered about the details of the tax. She said supporters should not be misled into thinking that the revenue from the tax would go toward funding public health programs.
“We must find another way to solve the county’s budget problems,” Rodriguez said. “One that won’t hurt jobs, the economy or Cook County families’ grocery budgets.”
After hearing arguments from both sides, the new tax passed with a vote of 9 to 8 by the Cook County commissioners. Preckwinkle’s vote was the tie-breaker.
“I know this isn’t an easy decision and I don’t come to it lightly. Raising revenue is never my first choice,” Preckwinkle said after the vote. “However, my fundamental responsibility as president is to present a balanced budget that supports our critical services.”
Even with the additional revenue, Preckwinkle said she is planning to lay off about 300 county employees in 2017.