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Beverage tax backlash keeps spilling over

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Opposition to the Cook County beverage tax has drawn support from some state legislators who believe the measure should be eliminated because it is unfair to taxpayers.

State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) and state Rep. Frances Hurley (D-35th) are two local legislators who are co-sponsors of a bill to repeal the Cook County beverage tax.

But Worth Mayor Mary Werner said not so fast. While the House and Senate could vote to repeal the ordinance, the Worth mayor wants to focus on getting some Cook County Board of Commissioners to change their vote.

‘The sad truth is that we have Worth shoppers that are already going out of Cook County to shop,” Werner said. “And they are not only shopping for beverages, but for food, too. We are losing sales along 111th Street. Fairplay and Family Dollar, they are losing money.”

Werner has signed up to provide testimony at the next Cook County Board of Commissioners meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 13. Her goal is to persuade commissioners who have voted with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle for the beverage tax dating back to last November to change their vote. The ordinance went into effect last month.

The Worth mayor supports Commissioner Sean Morrison’s (R-17th) opposition to the tax. HIs district takes in portions of her village west of Harlem Avenue. But Commissioner Edward Moody (D-6th), whose district runs east of Harlem Avenue, supports the tax. So does Commissioner John Daley (D-11th). Werner is optimistic that her appearance before the board will sway some of these commissioners.

“This is just bad,” Werner said. “This is a terribly oppressive tax. “Opponents of the bill believe we should just go back to a zero budget and start over again.”

Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury understands the concerns of Preckwinkle, who has a budget shortfall. But she also hears the concerns of local businesses and believes that something has to be done. Local chambers, including the Oak Lawn Chamber of Commerce, have sent a letter to Preckwinkle demanding that she eliminate the tax that they say hurts working families and is chasing shoppers out of Cook County.

“Shopping patterns have been changing because of the tax,” Bury said. “I heard one person say that a woman from Homewood now goes shopping in Indiana. I personally reached out to Commissioner Daley and Commissioner Moody on this matter.”

Bury hopes to have conversations with both commissioners soon.

“I’m confident they will do the right thing,” Bury said. “The thing is the money is definitely needed (by Cook County).

“They are in a tough bind,” added Bury. “It is very challenging for businesses. But right now, Cook County has the largest outward migration out of the area. We need to do something.”

And that is why Burke supports a measure to repeal the beverage tax.

“Many people enjoy drinking a cold soda or a glass of orange juice in the morning. I think it’s unfair to tax them on this everyday grocery item,” Burke said. “I believe this tax will do nothing except force more families to do their shopping outside of Cook County and cost our area jobs.”

The Cook County Board taxes all sweetened beverages including diet sodas, fruit and vegetable juices, certain coffees and teas, flavored waters and sports drinks at the rate of one cent per ounce. The county’s tax raises the average cost of a 2-liter soda by 67 percent, and raises the average cost of a bottle of fruit juice or iced tea by 43 percent.

Proponents of Preckwinkle’s tax state that raising the price of sugared beverages will cut down on child obesity, diabetes and other diseases that can hamper children. Opponents of the new tax said it was only made to raise revenue for the county.

Preckwinkle mostly recently gained the attention of the wealthy former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, who has been paying for commercials in the Chicago area in support of the tax and emphasizing the harm sugared drinks could have on children.

Not every local municipality has been hit with complaints by consumers. Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett said that he has not been receiving any angry calls as of yet.

“Because of the limited revenue we have from some of these retailers or restaurants, we have not heard anything on this,” Bennett said.

But the village of Worth is another matter.

“I’ve reached out to Sen. (Bill) Cunningham and told him I would appreciate it if the state of Illinois does not take any further action until the Board of Commissioners vote on the beverage tax,” Werner said. “It is very important for our residents to know where our commissioners stand on this issue before anything else is done.”