By: Chicago Tribune Editorial Board
Cook County’s soda tax turned one week old on Wednesday. Happy birthday!
Not exactly. County officials knew the penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages was unpopular, but we suspect they underestimated the public wrath it would provoke once shoppers saw how much it added to the cost of their daily purchases.
A We Ask America Polls survey commissioned by the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and conducted Aug. 3 through Aug. 6 found that 87 percent of respondents disapproved of the tax. Yes, 87 percent. Though the tax was sold as a public health initiative, 80 percent believe it’s a money grab. And 83 percent said they would be less likely to re-elect a member of the Cook County Board who voted for it. (That chance comes in 2018.)
Whew. No positive spin in those numbers. The soda tax is about as popular as a hornet in a hospital nursery.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, chief architect of the tax, on Tuesday backed off her plot to punish the Illinois Retail Merchants Association for challenging the tax. The retailers group had sued the county, claiming the tax was unconstitutionally arbitrary, and won a monthlong delay on its implementation.
Preckwinkle instructed county lawyers to go after the group for what she estimated was $17 million in lost revenue. After intense criticism, she changed her mind.
It’s good Preckwinkle backed down. But did she really get the message? If so, she’ll abolish the tax completely.
Some board members are pressing the subject. Commissioner Sean Morrison, R-17th, filed an ordinance this week to get rid of the tax. Four others — Richard Boykin, D-1st; John Fritchey, D-12th; Timothy Schneider, R-15th; and Jeffrey Tobolski, D-16th — are co-sponsors. All five voted against the tax last November.
Others ought to think hard about joining them. Perhaps the backlash, or those poll numbers, have their attention. The board is scheduled to take up the repeal ordinance Sept. 13.
Madam President, listen to your constituents. They don’t want the soda tax. They’re speaking to you. Pay attention. Gather up your finance wizards and find a way to roll back the tax and reduce county spending instead. Cut personnel. Consolidate departments. Limit services to the essentials. Stand firm against unaffordable pay and benefit packages of your unionized workforce.
Your support for the tax helps them get their raises. But it’s costing you. This rebellion against the soda tax can be a teachable moment. Grasp it.
Voters adamantly reject the notion that the tax is a well-intentioned effort at improving public health. First clue: It applies to all sorts of beverages that don’t include sugar. Second clue: Countless other sugar-laden products aren’t taxed. A penny an ounce can inflate the price of some purchases by 50 percent or more.
And it adds up quickly, especially when combined with Chicago’s highest-in-the-nation sales tax (ahem), hotel taxes, ammunition taxes, amusement taxes, parking taxes, cable taxes and of course, property taxes.
Madam President, you often boast that the county’s property tax levy has remained steady. But that’s a dishonest narrative. You and your predecessors spend more each year and do so by finding something else to tax. Your brag doesn’t mean your constituents aren’t paying more. Or that they’re not smart enough to notice.
Voters are onto this scheme. They know bunk when they see it. Restore some of their trust. Kill a beverage tax that everyone knows is a shakedown.
To read the story on the Tribune’s website, click here.