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SWEET: Big Soda beats Bloomberg in Cook County tax fight

How much — or whether — Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle will be politically punished in her ill-conceived quest to raise revenue for the cash-starved county under the guise of making folks healthier, will be clearer as she seeks a third term in 2018. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times file photo

WASHINGTON — In the windowless fifth-floor Cook County Board chamber, Big Soda won a repeal of a despised beverage tax on Wednesday, a victory in Chicago with local and national implications.

The American Beverage Association beat former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in Cook County — yes, this was a proxy war — as Bloomberg plucked down millions of dollars to prop up Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

How much — or whether — Preckwinkle will be politically punished in her ill-conceived quest to raise revenue for the cash-starved county under the guise of making folks healthier, will be clearer as she seeks a third term in 2018.


What is known is this: The enormity of the beverage industry victory in Democratic Cook County.

The Cook County pop tax: Conceived Nov. 10, 2016, when Cook County Board members approved the one-cent-per-ounce Sweetened Beverage Tax. Born on Aug. 2, 2017, its effective date. Date of death was decreed by a 15-2 repeal vote on Wednesday. The tax dies at the end of the county fiscal year, midnight on Nov. 30.

Bloomberg is crusading for higher taxes on sugary drinks as a way to reduce the obesity epidemic in this nation, with allies including the American Heart Association, active in the Cook County fight.

Philadelphia’s 1.5 cents per ounce beverage tax, passed in 2016, started this year. San Francisco voters on a second try in 2016 approved a beverage tax, with the beverage industry unsuccessfully putting down millions to beat it.

RELATED: Cook County Board repeals soda tax

Referendums in Oakland and Albany in 2016 approved the beverage tax, aligning these California East Bay cities with Berkeley, with a tax in effect since 2015.

Boulder and Seattle also have sweetened beverage taxes.

In 2017, however, Bloomberg’s team is hitting a rough patch when it comes to beverage taxes. Will the Cook County repeal give the beverage industry anti-tax drive momentum?

• Michigan state lawmakers took notice of the uproar in Cook County and last week, in a pre-emptive move, sent a bill to the governor to ban local governments from imposing soda taxes.

• On Oct. 4, the St. Helen, Oregon, city council voted down a sugar-sweetened beverage tax.

• On May 2, voters in Santa Fe, New Mexico, defeated a proposed 2-cents-per-ounce tax on sodas.

• Last spring, West Virginia state lawmakers dropped a beverage tax proposal.

The political challenge facing Preckwinkle hit me at a Jewel in Skokie the moment on Aug. 23 I grudgingly paid 67 cents in the new pop tax on a 99 cent bottle of diet cola.

Bloomberg senior adviser Howard Wolfson said his team was “disappointed” by the Cook County repeal, but not giving up the national fight.

“Mike Bloomberg remains committed to supporting municipalities that pursue sugary drinks taxes to make their communities healthier,” Wolfson said.

American Beverage Association vice president William Dermody said after the vote, “The message out of Cook County is that people want a better way to close budget gaps — prioritize programs and pay for them in a fair manner.”


This issue mobilized angry voters and Chicago political/government affairs/lobbying/public engagement firms. . . . Not a complete list below, but some key players . . .

For repeal: Resolute Consulting, which led the ABA bankrolled effort branded as the “Can the Tax Coalition” plus Mac Strategies; Fletcher O’Brien Kasper; Reyes Kurson and All-Circo, Inc.

Against repeal: Grisko; Bloomberg, the American Heart Association; the Illinois Public Health Institute.

Said Carolyn Grisko, president and CEO of Grisko, “Chicago and the state really have tax fatigue. Our income tax went up, our property taxes went up and we have a tax on plastic bags. . . . And this one tax was just the straw, it was the last straw for taxpayers. We did win on this issue (with the original vote) and Big Soda was not going to let this stand.”