Beverage tax canned

Grace DeKoker, Copy Editor

The Board of Cook County Commissioners reached a decision regarding the highly contested tax on all sweetened beverages on Oct. 10. After months of pressure from their constituents, the commissioners took a vote which would repeal the beverage tax, Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison (R- Palos Park) said. The board voted 15-2, ruling that as of today, Dec. 1, the penny-per-ounce tax on drinks with added sugars or sweeteners would be rescinded.

“It was the general public that absolutely helped drive the repeal,” Morrison said. “I was the lead sponsor, I wrote the ordinance to have it put in, but I very likely could not have gotten it repealed. The citizens of Cook County placed a lot of pressure on my elected colleagues, which helped to encourage them to vote against the tax.”

Morrison was immediately against the beverage tax, and voted against it from the get-go, he said. The initial vote was 8-8, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle (D) tipped the scale. She was one of the tax’s largest proponents, though several drink companies and most citizens of the 17th district opposed it.

Small businesses faced an immediate threat, as the tax would implement their sale and distribution of most offered beverages. The expected revenue was anywhere from $90-170 million, Morrison said. In his tenure as a commissioner, he had “never experienced anything like [the soda tax]; no tax issue has had this negative of an effect.”

Additionally, a lawsuit was filed by the Illinois Retail-Merchants Association earlier this year, challenging the constitutionality of the tax. The Illinois Constitution states that taxes must be evenly applied; the specific target on the soda industry was hard-hitting.

“Any tax that segments a small section is bad tax policy,” Morrison said. “A government should never sue a resident or resident organization for something like that. It was my last straw.”

Yet with the repeal, the promised funds disappear. In order to begin paying off the state’s debt, Preckwinkle has proposed the elimination of several mid-level management positions and vacant positions.

“Without revenue, we are left with no other option,” Preckwinkle wrote to the county’s commissioners. _

The LaGrange Business Association is a membership of over 300 owners of small businesses

and supporters of the local economy. They contribute greatly to the community and other village events, LGBA President Kathy Dierkes said.

“Small businesses have it tough enough these days,” Dierkes said. “There were obviously people who were not happy… it was such a trickle down.”

The “trickle down” refers to how more not just individual businesses, but the community as a whole would face repercussions. Restaurants that had to charge more for soda or stop offering free refills on their drinks were in danger of losing revenue, which would then decrease the sums they would be able to pour back into community events, she said.

“When businesses get squeezed, the community gets squeezed as well,” Dierkes said.

As for LT, the tax saw little effect, Director of Business Services Brian Stachacz said. The short period of time did not allow for much data to be collected on how students changed their purchases based on subsequent cost increases.“The goal of our food services program is to minimally operate at net zero,” Stachacz said.By functioning at “net zero,” the idea is to break even and send extra profit into the budget. Soda and sugary drinks in the cafeteria have already seen a price increase, though there is no  guarantee LT will revert back, Stachacz said, as drink prices have not changed since 2014. Due to the changing economy, the beverage tax may have come and gone at the ideal time to raise them.“Our goal is always to promote healthy drinks,” Stachacz said.

The repeal was driven primarily by citizens, Morrison said, and would not have happened without their support and drive to do what they feel is right.

“It’s not a case of not wanting the money to go to Cook County, it’s a case of appropriating the money… we have to live with money issues, with political issues, with taxation, but I personally don’t think that tax looked at the big picture,” Dierkes said.