It has always been a bad tax, and the jobs of hundreds of people should not live and die by a bad tax.
It is unconscionable that Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has threatened layoffs in 925 positions this summer if a judge does not allow a tax on sweet beverages to take effect by August. The tax was unpopular with the public and its legality is untested. It is not, as of yet, a reliable source of revenue, and it is unfair to tie the job security of hundreds of employees to its success. They deserve better.
Adding a sinister note to this injustice, as reported Friday by Sun-Times columnist Mike Sneed, 377 of those jobs, many of them positions as Cook County Jail correctional officers, are held by members of the Chicago Teamsters Union. That union recently got on Preckwinkle’s bad side by taking out a newspaper ad opposing the tax. We’d like to believe there’s no political payback here, but the optics are bad.
The “sweetened beverage tax” was sold to the public in a less than forthright manner. It was presented as a “sin tax” to discourage people from buying sugary drinks that are bad for their health, though the obvious primary goal is to raise revenue. The tax adds a penny an ounce to the cost of sugary drinks such as Coke, but also to the cost of diet drinks and sports drinks.
Now the Illinois Retail Merchants Association has sued, complaining the tax is arbitrary. They’ve got an argument.
Whatever the merits of the tax, it is brand new. Until road-tested, it should be used only to cover non-essential services that can be trimmed without inflicting great pain — not to pay salaries.
If the judge puts the tax on hold and hundreds of workers are thrown out of their jobs, the failure to manage will be entirely on Toni Preckwinkle.
Send letters to: firstname.lastname@example.org