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EDITORIAL: Can the soda tax, Toni Preckwinkle

Attendees hold competing signs about a potential repeal of the county soda tax during a special meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners for the Executive Budget for the Fiscal Year 2018, Oct. 5, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle keeps pushing for that sweetened beverage tax.

In her budget address Thursday to the Cook County Board, she said commissioners should vote for the tax, no apologies, and not hide behind more courageous colleagues willing to take the heat.

Problem is, the tax is still a bad idea. It would be much better for Preckwinkle and the board to spend the next week, before their next meeting, finding an alternative source of revenue and identifying further spending cuts.


The board is scheduled to vote next week on a proposal to roll back the county’s unpopular penny-per-ounce tax on pop and other sweetened beverages. The board was deadlocked on the idea last year, and the tax was approved only because Preckwinkle cast the tie-breaking vote. On Thursday, John Daley, one of the commissioners who supported the tax last year, said he now will vote against it.

The sweetened beverage tax, which is expected to bring in $200 million a year, is simply too big. In some cases, it adds a third more to the price of a soft drink.

Like all sales taxes, the soda tax also is regressive. Many poor people buy sweetened and diet soda, both of which are taxed, and the tax hits them squarely in the pocketbook. It’s worth noting that the tax does not cover sugar-filled cold coffee drinks from the corner barista. Moreover, as we have pointed out before, if sugar really is the target, why not tax cookies and candy just as heavily?

The tax is difficult for businesses and their customers to understand. Retailers are unsure what to tax, and different retailers have put the tax on different things. It is a bookkeeping nightmare.

The tax also hurts retailers who lose business when former customers go elsewhere to buy cheaper pop, along with other purchases. Especially hard hit are stores along the county borders.

The sweetened beverage tax was sold as a public health measure. We get that. Sugary drinks, the junkiest of junk foods, are a major cause of obesity and diabetes. But we remain convinced the primary motivation for the tax was to collect more revenue for the county.

Preckwinkle says the only alternative to the soda tax is massive budget cuts, but if she’s truly responsive to the public — who really hate this tax — she’ll find a third way.

The fizz has gone out of the soda tax. Pour it down the drain.

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