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Preckwinkle pops ‘Big Soda’ for pushing ‘very problematic product’

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle speaks during a press conference in March. File Photo. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Friday the beverage industry’s big-money campaign against the county’s new tax on pop was “disgraceful.”

Preckwinkle alleged “Big Soda” is behind Citizens for a More Affordable Cook County, the recently formed political-action committee targeting the re-election campaigns of County Board commissioners who voted for the tax on sweetened beverages.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Preckwinkle, who’s up for re-election for a third term next year. “These folks have a very problematic product and they know it. They’re spending a lot of money to promote consumption. I think it’s disgraceful.”

The PAC threw the charge back at Preckwinkle.

“It’s disgraceful that year after year Cook County politicians continue to raise taxes and balance their bloated budget on the backs of working families and small businesses,” said a spokesman for Citizens for a More Affordable Cook County.

“Residents in Cook County deserve to be represented by commissioners who will make the county more affordable for them to live and thrive. We are committed to supporting commissioners who will stop driving working families and small businesses out of the county.”

Records show the political-action committee was created last month with Michael Kasper — the longtime attorney to Illinois House Speaker and state Democratic Party leader Michael Madigan — as its treasurer.

Preckwinkle shrugged off the involvement of Kasper.

“I think Mike is an independent actor who works for a lot of different folks,” she said. “That’s all it is.”

Kasper declined to comment. He represented Rahm Emanuel in his 2011 legal fight to stay on the mayoral ballot, and also is a lobbyist for the American Beverage Association, which opposes the tax.

Preckwinkle said she has spoken with Madigan about the pop tax but he did not tell her his opinion on the matter.

Lawmakers in Springfield also have proposed legislation to eliminate the tax. Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said those measures are “under review” by the speaker.

Brown added that he had “no idea” about Kasper’s role with the anti-incumbent PAC.

Preckwinkle has argued that the tax would promote public health by discouraging consumption of sweetened beverages.

At the same time, officials say they expect the tax to generate more than $200 million a year for the cash-strapped county government.

But the Jones Lang LaSalle investment management firm predicts that the tax will raise only $88.5 million in its first year.

Even in a “best case” scenario — “even if no affected consumer changes their behavior” and buys less pop or buys it outside the county — the tax would bring the county no more than $156.2 million in new revenues, according to Jones Lang LaSalle.

Preckwinkle said she was not aware of those projections, adding that the county is basing its numbers on the revenues that a pop tax generated for Berkeley, California.

The County Board president cast the tie-breaking vote on the pop tax last November, after the board commissioners deadlocked on the penny-per-ounce tax. All eight commissioners who voted for the tax are Democrats, as is Preckwinkle.

Citizens for a More Affordable Cook County — which has not yet disclosed any financial contributors — plans to back challengers in the March primary.

In the meantime, commissioners who voted against the tax have introduced a measure to repeal it.

“My expectation is we will continue to collect this tax,” Preckwinkle said.

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