Cook County’s controversial beverage tax expires at midnight

COOK COUNTY, Ill. --  The final hours are ticking down for Cook County's controversial beverage tax, and as of midnight on Dec. 1, the penny-per-ounce "soda tax" is no more.

Pushed hard by Board President Toni Preckwinkle for its health benefits and as a revenue generator, the tax was controversial from the get go. A lawsuit to stop it was filed, and a public campaign for and against it ensued. The battle even included the likes of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who advocated for it.

But Cook County Commissioners soon realized it was hugely unpopular and voted to repeal it in October, even amid threats from Preckwinkle that massive layoffs would result. And they have, including 155 positions eliminated on Chief Judge Timothy Evans' staff. Evans filed a lawsuit against Preckwinkle Thursday to block those layoffs and restore the funding, claiming the county has no authority in the judicial branch.

A proponent of the tax's repeal, Commissioner Richard Boykin  issued a statement saying that despite those threats, no significant layoffs have occurred.

“Tomorrow is a new day in Cook County, and all 5.2 million residents can celebrate their newfound independence from the sweetened beverage tax," Boykin said. "Unlike the state of Illinois or the city of Chicago, Cook County balanced its budget without increasing taxes. This is a momentous accomplishment."

Customers and business owners expressed their relief and excitement for the end of the tax Thursday. Lynn Cartwright is the proud owner of Lynnie Que's Airport Bar and Grill in Lansing. She said she's happy the "silly" tax is gone.

"Some of my customers just refused to drink pop. They said I'll have water now and they quit drinking pop," Cartwright said. "The rest of them went over the border into Indiana and bought their pop, so Illinois lost there."

Lynnie Ques customers like Maureen Grady-Perovich said when it comes deciding what they should be able to drink, she and her loved ones should decide as a family matter, not a government one.

"No one else should be making that decision for me," she said.

Toni Preckwinkle spokesman Frank Shuftan says getting rid of the tax means deeper cuts are coming, and they are prepared to defend the budget passed by county commissioners.