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Cook County soda tax to be repealed next week


The controversial Cook County pop tax is poised to fall flat.

After months of wrangling, a “bipartisan” deal has come together to end the penny-per-ounce tax on soda and other sugary drinks in advance of a vote on the matter that is still scheduled for next week.

The veto-proof deal delivers a major setback to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who on Thursday said the revenue from the tax was needed to avoid major cuts to the public health and safety sectors.

Two more commissioners, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Chicago, Preckwinkle’s floor leader, and Stanley Moore, D-Chicago, who were once in favor of the tax, acknowledged on Friday they have since changed their stance.

Another commissioner, Dennis Deer, D-Chicago, who joined the board after the tax was approved, also said he will vote against it. The move follows an announcement Thursday from Commissioner John Daley, D-Chicago, that he would no longer support the tax.

Now, the commissioners will need to figure out how to fill the roughly $200 million hole they’ve blown into the budget.

Preckwinkle has already said there could be an 11 percent cut across the board if the tax was repealed.

Garcia said in a statement Friday that his new stance came after he heard from families and small businesses about the affect of the tax.

“When we voted on the soda tax, I made a tough decision that I believed was best for Cook County,” Garcia said. “In order to repeal and phase out the soda tax in a responsible way, I have decided to co-sponsor legislation that will mitigate the effect of an immediate repeal on vital county services and allow for a more orderly transition.”

Moore said his decision to support the repeal came in the past week, but said it was “always on my mind” thanks to hundreds of calls, letters and emails from his constituents.

“Overwhelmingly people in the fourth district have said ‘we’re taxed out, we can’t keep doing this,'” Moore said. “If my community is saying we can’t do another tax, we’ll have to look elsewhere [for revenue].”

Moore said “elsewhere” could mean closing or combining court houses in his district and the Oak Forest Health Center and moving patients and employees to Provident Hospital on the city’s South Side where last month he appeared there with Preckwinkle, in support of the tax.

With the repeal going into effect in December, Moore said commissioners should have time to figure out where they can downsize.

The decision, and Commissioner Sean Morrison’s, R-Palos Park, substitute amendment, were submitted earlier Friday. With 12 commissioners now supporting the repeal, the measure is veto-proof; state law calls for a three-fifths majority.

“This will make Tuesday a much easier day,” said Morrison. “People will be able to relax now. This gives us some time to focus on the 2018 budget.”

Others supporting Morrison’s amendment include, Richard Boykin, D-Oak Park, John Fritchey, D-Chicago, Tim Schneider, R-Bartlett, Jeffrey Tobolski, D-McCook, Peter Silvestri, R-Elmwood Park, Bridget Gainer, D-Chicago, and Gregg Goslin, R-Glenview.

The tax narrowly passed in November — Preckwinkle cast a tie-breaking vote when commissioners ended up in a deadlock, voting 8-8. Initially set to go into effect in July, a court battle stalled the tax until August.

Ads and other material related to the tax brought in big money from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the American Beverage Association. Protests largely sponsored or hosted by the Can the Tax Coalition spotlighted small business owners who said they were watching their sales go down the drain because of the extra charge.

Polls released since the tax’s Aug. 2 implementation show over 90 percent of the county’s residents against the tax. Other polls show dwindling support for Preckwinkle and commissioners who voted for it. The commissioners and Preckwinkle are up for re-election next year.

In a statement, the Can the Tax Coalition said, “common sense has prevailed and a super majority of commissioners have listened and now support the tax’s repeal. The vote can’t come soon enough.”

The Board’s Finance Committee is scheduled to vote on the repeal ordinance on Tuesday. The board will vote on final passage of the repeal the following day.

Preckwinkle spokesman Frank Shuftan said his boss has already made her case for the tax and why its revenue was essential.

“President Preckwinkle mapped out for commissioners yesterday the two divergent paths they face for” the next budget year, Shuftan said. “The Finance Committee vote is Tuesday and final Board action would not come until Wednesday. We’ll withhold any further comment until that time.”