Cook County officials vote to end beverage tax, final vote Wednesday

CHICAGO -- The Cook County Finance Committee voted to repeal the beverage tax on Tuesday. The vote is veto-proof and the final vote takes place Wednesday.

The county board's finance committee met Tuesday to vote on a measure to repeal the unpopular penny-per-ounce tax.

Board President Toni Preckwinkle warned if the tax is repealed it will mean serious cuts to health and public safety.

Wednesday's vote is a formality. Several commissioners said the big money and public resistance to this was the strongest they’ve ever seen.

By a veto-proof majority, the Cook County Finance Committee voted to end the penny-per-ounce sweetened beverage tax.

Opponents of the tax knew they had the votes, but there was still political drama.

“Cook County is too expensive. People are leaving. Everything is too high,” Robert Ellis, a concerned citizen said.

“I’m right on the borderline and people are leaving everything on my counter and they’re going right across to Indiana,” Jesse Singh, business owner, said.

The repeal is a political defeat for Preckwinkle who came up with the tax as a way to close a nearly $200 million budget hole. Without the pop tax revenue, Preckwinkle says drastic cuts are needed.

On Tuesday, county government officials told the commissioners what the revenue loss would mean.

“Tax bills will definitely go out later since we won’t have the staff to get the work done,” Joe Berrios, Cook County Assessor, said.

“I think the truth is a little bit in between here. I don’t think people are trying to scare you but $200 million is a lot of money and people will lose their jobs and some services will be cut,” David Orr, Cook County Clerk, said.

Commissioner Richard Boykin who, opposed the tax when it passed last year, says talk of massive cuts is just a scare tactic.

“The sky is not falling. We’re not going to close trauma centers. We’re not going to scare people and say that we’re pushing granny off the cliff and all that,” Boykin said.

Health advocates pushed hard for the tax.

“Chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease are on the rise. Sugary beverages are the number one source of sugar in the American diet, “Karen Larimer, President, Chicago American Heart Association said.

But in the end, the commissioners said the pressure from their constituents was too great.

“People are tired of it. I don’t think they will allow this board to institute any additional taxes anywhere,” Commissioner Jeffery Tobolski said.

The pop tax really connected with residents. In addition to more the than 150 people who registered to speak before the board, the commissioners received  thousands of public comments online, mostly from people opposed to this tax.

If the full board votes to repeal the tax, it will be effective December 1.