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Preckwinkle: Soda tax will stand despite repeal campaign

Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle believes efforts to sway a commissioner to help repeal a countywide sweetened beverage tax before it takes effect in July will come to naught. Preckwinkle said during a radio interview that the tax was important for both the county's finances and public health. Her take that the tax would survive was bolstered Monday when Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele, a Chicago Democrat who had been targeted by a campaign to overturn the tax, told the Tribune that he backed keeping it. Steele was in the hospital last November when the County Board split 8-8 on the issue, with Preckwinkle breaking the tie vote. "It's necessary for government to go forward," Steele said during a telephone interview Monday. "I would have voted for it. I'm going to continue to hold that position." Steele has been targeted for lobbying efforts by the "Can the Tax" group, an American Beverage Association-funded group made up of retailers, restauranteurs and a beverage industry worker union. The group last week announced its campaign to repeal the county's penny-an-ounce sweetened beverage tax, which is set to go in effect July 1 and will apply to sugar- and artificially sweetened drinks. The campaign also will include social media and radio ad spots. "The beverage tax is coming, and we want to make sure (Cook County residents) know it will have a dramatic impact on their pocketbooks," Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said last week. The group contends that the tax will harm restaurants that operate on slim profit margins and result in job losses for workers in the retail, restaurant and beverage industries. A county spokesman dismissed the effort as "scare tactics" used in other locales by "Big Soda." Steele's comments came after Preckwinkle expressed confidence in his backing for the tax during an interview with Craig Dellimore, political editor of WBBM-AM 780, during his "At Issue" show that aired Sunday. "It's my conviction that Commissioner Steele believes, as I do, that it's very important to run a government responsibly and that this is a reasonable way to raise revenue," Preckwinkle said. She said voted in favor of the tax "proudly," noting it could help reduce consumption of sugar, which can have negative health consequences. Revenue from the tax, estimated at $221 million a year, will help maintain public safety and health services, she said. "If you want good government, you have to pay for it," Preckwinkle said. The tax also is expected to keep the county books in balance for three years, although that could change if Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act that funds much of the county's vast public health system.


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