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Editorial: The Cook County Board's legacy: Killing Cook County jobs

Friday, September 15, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Editorial Board

After testifying against the soda tax at Wednesday’s Cook County Board meeting, Stephanie Dremonas described her title as a “second generation owner” of Pete’s Fresh Market. The distinction was a nod to her owner father, who came to the United States from Greece as a teenager, opened a produce stand on Chicago’s South Side with his brothers, and grew the business into one of Chicagoland’s most popular grocery stores.

Today there are seven Pete’s Fresh Market stores in the city and five in the suburbs: Calumet City, Evergreen Park, Oakbrook Terrace, Bridgeview and Oak Park. Five more stores are scheduled to open soon.

Not one of them will be in Cook County.

High property taxes, a minimum wage hike and new taxes on plastic shopping bags and sweetened beverages persuaded the family-owned business to look elsewhere to expand, she said.

“I have three minimum wages to follow,” Dremonas said of the Chicago, Cook County and state minimum wage laws, all different. “I pay over $4 million in real-estate taxes. So you have to find a cheaper way of doing business and none of them have been in Cook County.”

Three of the five new stores will open in DuPage County. You’re welcome, Wheaton, Glen Ellyn and Willowbrook. The other two locations have not been announced.

What a legacy, Cook County government officials. You’ve snipped off your feeding hand. A homegrown, taxpaying business owner committed to offering quality products in struggling and middle-class neighborhoods has had enough of your anti-business, anti-growth, anti-jobs agenda. Brilliant move.

Other business owners shared similar stories at Wednesday’s meeting. Representatives of Culver’s Restaurants, Valli Produce and Boz Hot Dogs all said the business climate and the soda tax convinced them to not open new facilities or to expand existing ones in Cook County.

Despite the damage to businesses and widespread complaints from consumers, half of the Cook County Board still supports the soda tax, which took effect Aug. 2. A decision on whether to repeal it will take place next month.

Are you listening, South Side and south suburban commissioners? Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is committed to keeping the tax in place, and her allies include those who represent communities desperate for job growth.

Take Cook County Board member Deborah Sims, who has been on the board since 1994. She represents parts of Chicago’s South Side, Calumet Park, Riverdale, Dolton, Dixmoor, Harvey, Markham, Oak Forest, Ford Heights, Chicago Heights and Country Club Hills.

Sims is a strong supporter of the soda tax, even though her suburban mayors have said it is hurting their communities — especially those along the Indiana border, which already get slammed by Cook County’s higher sales tax.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Illinois (tied with Nevada) had the nation’s highest unemployment rate among blacks in 2016 at 12.7 percent. That compares to 8.9 percent in Indiana, 10.6 percent in Wisconsin and 9 percent in Missouri.

So let’s follow the logic: Sims supports proposals that hurt job growth in her communities, several with predominantly African-American populations, despite her communities’ desperate need for help.

Don’t take our word for it. Listen to Dremonas. Better yet, take a drive through Harvey or Ford Heights. The empty lots and foreclosed homes tell the story of how bad policies impact real lives.

This soda tax is supposed to be about curbing consumption of sugary beverages while funneling revenue to Cook County government.

Here’s what else it is: A jobs killer. On top of all the other jobs-killing policies advanced by the Democrat-majority Cook County Board for decades.

How’s it working out?



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