Cook County Board votes to repeal sweetened beverage tax

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People and businesses may be happy to see the soda tax go down the drain, but now with a $200 million budget hole to fill, some commissioners are already talking about the need for new taxes or fees. (WLS)

The Chicago-area's penny-per-ounce tax on soda and sweetened drinks was repealed Wednesday after a months long conflict that included a court battle and millions of dollars' worth of television ads on both sides.

The Cook County Board voted 15-2 to end the tax starting December 1. The vote came just more than two months after the tax took effect August 2.

In a near unanimous vote, the Cook County Board repealed the unpopular sugary drink tax on Wednesday.

The tax won't be collected starting December 1.

People and businesses may be happy to see the soda tax go down the drain, but now with a $200 million budget hole to fill, some commissioners are already talking about the need for new taxes or fees.

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The Chicago-area's penny-per-ounce tax on soda and sugary drinks has been repealed and won't be collected anymore starting Dec. 1.

"This contentious fight is now behind us, and what's ahead of us is a very tough budget season," said Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

While that process, which has to be completed by December 1, could be tough for commissioners, it could be even worse for taxpayers who could get dinged somewhere other than the soda aisle.

"Now that $200 million in revenue has been taken away and unless the board agrees on other revenue, we will have to make cuts, some of which will be very painful," said Preckwinkle.

President Toni Preckwinkle also says there will have to be layoffs, which could hit home at the jail, at Stroger Hospital and other county departments as well. To avoid those, some commissioners are already talking about raising taxes or fees somewhere else.

"We've begun the process of first off all trying to identify some potential sources of revenue that would help plug the hole that we have in the budget and then we're also going to have to consider making cuts," said Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.

Commissioner Garcia would not specify where the revenue might come from. But others were already pushing back after the public revolt over the sweetened beverage tax.

"Look, I will not consider any additional revenue until I'm satisfied that we've cut as much of the waste out of the budget that is possible," said Commissioner Richard Boykin.

That's where the battle lines will be drawn as commissioners try to come up with a balanced budget before December first when the new fiscal year begins. Some contend there is enough bloat in the budget that the necessary eleven percent could be trimmed without layoffs.

"I think that the administration would like us to think that layoffs are necessary because that's always the code word for scare tactics and quite frankly, we don't have to do that, we can balance the budget by cutting and by consolidating," said Boykin.

Preckwinkle, who seemed conciliatory after her soda tax was repealed, blamed the revolt on people's tax fatigue and the current political climate in this country.

"In an environment where there's a lot of anti-government rhetoric and sentiment, it makes it very difficult for local units of government to raise the revenue needed to deliver services," said Preckwinkle.

"There's over 1000 vacancies that are funded, we can close those off. We can put in a freeze. We can look at areas that are not critical to spending. You know we're not going to go and say we need to cut our neurosurgeon, we don't need to do that, but there's plenty of areas," said Commissioner Sean Morrison.

As for where she'd like to see cuts or what she considers sacred in the budget, Preckwinkle would not say. But she did indicate that as far as she's concerned nothing is off the table.

Preckwinkle also said if commissioners want to raise revenue somewhere else, it's up to them to suggest where. They have until Nov. 30 to approve a budget.

Preckwinkle's office said August and September, the first two months of the sweetened beverage tax, brought in $16.5 million to the county.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Related Topics:
politicssugary drink taxcook countybeverage taxvotingLoopChicago
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