County residents rally to urge repeal of beverage tax
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
by Rachel Hinton
Grocers, restauranteurs and representatives from big soda companies rubbed elbows with Cook County residents in a rally against the county’s penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages.
The tax, some attending the rally said, has literally driven away business to neighboring counties in Illinois and also across the state line to Indiana.
“It’s unfair for taxpayers to continue to bear the brunt of the county’s inability to balance a budget,” said Jonathan Brooks, who lives in Englewood and was among those at the rally outside the Thompson Center in the Loop. “People are being forced to decide between their beverages and paying the light bill.”
Dueling ad campaigns have been airing on the issue, with opponents decrying the financial burden, while ads supporting the tax tout the benefits of consuming fewer soft drinks, while highlighting the issues of obesity and diabetes.
A measure to repeal the tax is on the agenda for Wednesday’s Cook County Board of Commissioners meeting. Since it is being introduced Wednesday, it typically would not be voted on but would instead be assigned to a committee for a hearing.
Brooks said his family, as well as others he knows in his community, aren’t buying fewer beverages — they’re just buying them elsewhere.
That loss of customers was emphasized by other speakers at the rally. Grocers like Martin Sandoval, owner of several La Chiquita grocery stores in Cook County, said his sales have visibly gone down and he’s pouring products down the drain.
Tangie Holmes-Brown said that, as a team parent for her grandsons’ football team, she now drives an extra 10 minutes to Hammond, Indiana to get the Powerade and Gatorade her grandsons and their teammates need for games. The extra few minutes is nothing compared to the extra $20 to $30 per week she would spend in taxes for those sport drinks.
“Those drinks are super-expensive now,” Holmes-Brown said. “That’s the thing that’s most affecting me. The cost is astronomical if you’re not used to it.”
County board president Toni Preckwinkle was to speak Tuesday afternoon at Provident Hospital about the beverage tax and its health benefits.
Holmes-Brown, like many others, said the tax wasn’t about health but about raising revenue, and urged Preckwinkle to remember the everyday people she represents.
“We supported her in many of her endeavors and I would think that she could support us in stopping something that’s hurting us,” Holmes-Brown said. “It’s time for her to give back.”