Cook County soda tax repeal vote delayed Wednesday

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CHICAGO -- A repeal vote of the Cook County sweetened beverage was delayed after hours of public commentary on Wednesday.

“Sugar is deadlier than heroin and cocaine,” Sheila Hickland, Heart to Heart Ministry, said.

“Lemonade sold in this building - the price was $2 I had to pay $0.25 in tax. There's no consistency in this,” Jim Garrett, Chicago Southland Convention & Bureau Center, said.

After debate, the Commissioners punted and decided to delay a repeal vote. As the measure heads to committee, the war of words continues.

Opponents and supporters of the tax packed Wednesday's county board meeting and dozens spoke up.

“Drinking too much sugar can cause a host of dental problems,” Audrey Wheeler said.

“I don't believe it's the governments business to tell me if I have my grandchildren come over for a sleepover, I shouldn't buy Hawaiian Punch,” Mary Wener, Village of Worth Mayor, said.

There is big money in this fight. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pumped millions into ads touting the benefits of the pop tax, while Board President Toni Preckwinkle has been talking up the health concerns.

“We have a real challenge in this County among public health issues, around diabetes, around heart disease,” Preckwinkle said.

But Preckwinkle has framed the debate in another way -- warning Cook County needs the $200 million a year the tax is expected to raise. Without it, she says, the county will be forced to lay off workers. And she's warning the commissioners that a vote to repeal the tax is a vote for layoffs.

“It's a vote to fire front line health care workers, doctors, nurses and counselors,” Preckwinkle said.

While the soda industry and retailers rally against the tax, Commissioner Richard Boykin has led the political fight.

“President Preckwinkle and this tax must go and they must go now,” he said.

Boykin, who's weighting a run against Preckwinkle, said the county does not need the tax and can come up with the money to keep jobs if it reduces violence.

“Gun violence costs you billions of dollars in the County of Cook. So we ought to deal with the gun violence raging in our county and not worry about putting a sin tax on people's beverages,” Boykin said.

The repeal vote did not happen Wednesday, so the Cook County pop tax continues. The Finance Committee has the next move on October 10 while behind the scenes negotiations continue.