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Morning Spin: Vote to repeal pop tax expected today

Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Opponents of the controversial Cook County soda pop tax continued Monday to press more commissioners to repeal it, even as a planned vote Tuesday to undo the tax already appeared likely to go their way.

Canvassers backed by the beverage industry took to the districts of Democrats Edward Moody of Chicago Ridge and Deborah Sims of Chicago to ask residents to urge their commissioners to repeal the tax. Both voted for the penny-an-ounce tax on sugar- and artificially sweetened beverages last November.

They are not among the 12 commissioners who late last week put their names to an ordinance that would eliminate the tax on Dec. 1. It would take 11 votes to override a veto by County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who last year broke an 8-8 tie vote to approve the tax and continues to say it’s essential to prevent slashing of the county’s public health and criminal justice services.

The board Finance Committee, which includes all 17 commissioners, is scheduled to consider the repeal Tuesday. If enough of them vote to do away with the tax, repeal by the full board on Wednesday is all but certain.

Underlining how controversial the tax has been, hundreds of people have submitted more than 2,000 pages of testimony for and against the tax in advance of Tuesday's meeting.

One health advocate is expected to suggest commissioners compromise instead of getting rid of the tax completely. Illinois Public Health Institute Executive Director Elissa Bassler said removing the tax from diet beverages would still raise 70 percent or more of the targeted revenue for public health and criminal justice programs while still targeting the “most unhealthy” drinks.

But that idea is a long shot, given how many commissioners have already announced support of outright repeal.

Meanwhile, TV ads touting the health benefits of the tax paid for by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg continued to air. But Howard Wolfson, the billionaire media empire owner’s spokesman, said that was a reflection of the reality that “they’re paid for at this point.”

A repeal of the tax this week would cause a budget reckoning soon afterward. Commissioners and countywide elected officials would have to find ways to cut $200 million in spending from Preckwinkle’s proposed $5.4 billion 2018 budget.

“She submitted a budget that is $200 million short now, and that is the task now for everybody,” said Commissioner Larry Suffredin, an Evanston Democrat who continues to back the tax but said Monday there’s “no doubt it will be repealed tomorrow.” (Hal Dardick)

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