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John Daley changes stance on sweetened beverage tax

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, left, and Commissioner John P. Daley during a board meeting on July 15, 2015. | Saiyna Bashir/Sun-Times

John Daley on Thursday became the first Cook County commissioner to publicly switch sides on the contentious issue of the county’s tax on sweetened beverages, telling the Chicago Sun-Times he now thinks the penny-per-ounce tax should be repealed.

Daley had been one of eight commissioners who voted for the tax when the county board approved it last year. The commissioners deadlocked on the issue, but board President Toni Preckwinkle cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the tax.

Daley, a South Side Democrat, said public opinion swayed his vote.

“I heard from my district, and I think we’re elected to represent our district,” he said. “I heard overwhelming opposition.”

PRECKWINKLE: Stands firm on soda tax as repeal vote looms next week

After Daley’s flip-flop on the matter, the board could be poised to repeal the measure. Assuming the other eight opponents of the tax vote the same way again, the tax could be overturned as soon as next week.

But Preckwinkle could then veto the repeal measure, forcing opponents of the tax to try to gather more votes to override her veto. Commissioner Richard Boykin, D-Oak Park, and a supporter of the repeal measure, said last week he thought there would be enough votes to repeal, but perhaps not enough commissioners willing to override a potential Preckwinkle veto.

Facing huge public pressure — including an expensive campaign by soft-drink companies and strong criticism from business interests in the county — the board is set to vote on the proposal to repeal the tax.

Despite the biggest backlash in her seven years as board president, Preckwinkle has stood firm in her support of the tax, which is expected to generate about $200 million a year for the cash-strapped county government.

But Daley said he believes the budget can be balanced without the tax. “If everyone gets together, it can be done,” he said.

Daley said he had never seen such voter opposition to a tax as the criticism that the pop tax has generated.

“They are being taxed out of the state, out of the county,” he said. “The public is saying, “There are too many taxes and I’m tired of it.”

Daley’s change of position could have outsized influence beyond his single vote. The brother of former Mayor Richard M. Daley and son of former Mayor Richard J. Daley is the longtime chairman of the county board’s Finance Committee and chairman of the 11th Ward’s Democratic organization.

He’s long been an ally of Preckwinkle, and she could see his sudden shift as a betrayal of her attempts to combat what she’s derided as big-money, “Big Soda” interests.

In a statement, the Can the Tax Coalition welcomed the new stance, saying “commissioner Daley has always been a champion of working families and sound fiscal policy.”

Preckwinkle spokesman Frank Shuftan declined to comment Thursday’s afternoon on Daley’s about-face or say whether the president would veto a repeal measure from board members.

Preckwinkle has announced plans to run for re-election to a third term, even as polls suggest the pop-tax issue has dramatically lowered her once high approval ratings.


Contributing: Rachel Hinton