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Bloomberg spends $3 million more on campaign to back soda pop tax as repeal showdown looms

Friday, September 01, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is spending $3 million more to air a new TV ad backing the controversial penny-an-ounce Cook County tax on sweetened beverages.

The $3 million is on top of $2 million Bloomberg already plowed into a different ad supporting the tax, which went into effect Aug. 1.

Meanwhile, the beverage industry continues an effort to push back. The Can the Tax coalition on Thursday took its campaign to Hazel Crest in the south suburbs, where retailers said the tax is harming their businesses. That's in the district of Commissioner Deborah Sims, who voted for the tax.

Last week, the coalition was in Chicago's Little Village, where the group joined retailers and the local Chamber of Commerce to advocate for repeal of the tax. That event was in the heart of the district represented by Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, who voted for the tax.

A showdown of sorts is set for Sept. 13, when a vote on repealing the tax is expected to take place at a County Board meeting. But passing a repeal and getting it to stick is a tall order.

Board President Toni Preckwinkle in November broke a rare tie vote to approve the pop tax, following an 8-8 tie vote. The late Commissioner Robert Steele was hospitalized and unable to attend that meeting.

If all 17 commissioners attend the upcoming meeting, and new Commissioner Dennis Deer backs the tax, it would take two changed minds to repeal the tax. Deer said when he was appointed to the seat that he favors the beverage tax.

And if a repeal vote succeeded, Preckwinkle would likely issue a veto. Then, it would take even more commissioners reversing their votes to repeal the tax.

The Bloomberg ads will be airing in the meantime. The billionaire media empire owner has long backed efforts to curtail the intake of sugary sodas, perhaps most famously when he backed an ultimately failed effort to ban Big Gulps and similar oversize sugary drinks in New York City.

The new ad features Dr. Javette Orgain, a family physician who is an associate professor of clinical family medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"Soda companies are targeting our children, and every day I see the results," Orgain says in the ad. "Obesity leads to heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes. It makes me angry, and it should make you angry too. The soda tax will mean healthier kids, healthier families, healthier communities. If we don't protect the kids, who will?"

The Can the Tax coalition was dismissive of the Bloomberg ad campaign, making reference to a poll conducted shortly after the tax went into effect that concluded it was highly unpopular. It was conducted by a firm affiliated with the Illinois Manufacturers' Association.

"When Cook County and President Preckwinkle desperately need New York City billionaire Michael Bloomberg and his $5 million to try and whitewash a tax nearly 90% of Cook County residents have rejected, it's clearly time to repeal the beverage tax," read a statement issued by the coalition. The statement said the "tax has nothing to do with public health and everything to do about raising taxes to fuel more County spending."

Twitter @ReporterHal

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