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Cook County’s ‘health’ lie, in black and white

Thursday, September 21, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Editorial Board

Let Michael Bloomberg spend his millions to defend Cook County’s hated sweetened beverage tax. Opponents don’t need to pay a dime for advertising. That’s because taxpayers get a written reminder of this brazen cash grab every time they make a purchase.

County Board members who are on the fence about next month’s vote to repeal the tax should keep that in mind.

Take a look at the receipt atop this editorial, for example:

Five bottles of Powerade Zero: 89 cents each — plus 32 cents per bottle Cook County sweetened beverage tax. Zero calories, zero sugar.

Total shelf price: $4.45.

Total Cook County beverage tax, allegedly collected to fight obesity, diabetes and heart disease: $1.60.

Chicago beverage tax (3 percent): 13 cents.

At checkout, we tossed an impulse buy into the cart.

One Reese's Peanut Butter Cup: 200 calories, 12 grams of fat, 19 grams of sugar, 150 mg of sodium.

Shelf price: $1

Nanny taxes: Zero.

Merchandise total: $5.45

Sales tax (10.25 percent): 56 cents

Total taxes: $2.29, or 42 percent

Yes, 42 percent. (If you remember your algebra, you know the percentage would be even higher if not for that lightly taxed Reese’s cup.)

Our $5.45 purchase ends up costing $7.74.

So tell us again, Cook County commissioners, that the beverage tax will make residents healthier. Tell us how adding more than a third to the price of a sugar-free sports drink protects our children. Tell us why that candy bar is OK.

Or tell us the truth, which is that you didn’t set out to reduce obesity, diabetes and heart disease — you set out to make $200 million a year without raising property taxes. That health shtick is a pretense plainly contradicted by that untaxed Reese’s sugar-and-fat bomb. Do you think taxpayers are stupid?

Think again.

Think long and hard.

Next month, you’ll have a chance to repeal this disingenuous ordinance. You can replace it with a fair and honest tax, if you can make the case for one, or you can sharpen your pencils and cut expenses. What you can’t do is leave the beverage tax in place and hope your constituents will forget about it. It’s right there on the receipt, and too big to miss.

This tax is a whopper — in more ways than one.

Taxpayers, check your receipts.

Then check this list of commissioners who voted “yes” for this tax in November. If you’d like to offer guidance, give them a call:

Luis Arroyo Jr., D-Chicago, 312-603-8530.

Jerry "Iceman" Butler, D-Chicago, 312-603-6391.

John Daley, D-Chicago, 312-603-4400.

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, 312-603-5443.

Edward Moody, D-Chicago Ridge, 312-603-4216.

Stanley Moore, D-Chicago, 312-603-2065.

Deborah Sims, D-Chicago, 312-603-6381.

Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, 312-603-6383.

The late commissioner Robert Steele, D-Chicago, was in the hospital during the vote, forcing board President Toni Preckwinkle — 312-603-6400 — to break an 8-8 tie with a “yes” vote. Steele was replaced by Dennis Deer, D-Chicago, 312-603-3019.

Pick up the phone. And share your soda tax totals on Twitter: #TweetYourReceipt to @Trib_ed_board.

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