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Column

Don't let New York billionaire influence soda tax revote

Cook County residents and retailers overwhelmingly hate the sugary drink tax foisted on them last month.

No amount of money spent defending it is going to change that.

That's why it would be prudent for Cook County commissioners to listen to their constituents instead of New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who is attempting to influence the outcome of today's scheduled vote on a potential repeal of the penny-per-ounce tax.

Yes, commissioners are being given a second chance to do the right thing and undo the damage of their razor-thin decision from last November, when Taxer-in-Chief Toni Preckwinkle broke an 8-8 tie to approve the penny-per-ounce tax.

Nine votes will be needed to rescind the tax. If that happens, Preckwinkle, the County Board's president, likely is to veto the repeal. Eleven votes then would be needed to override.

That won't be easy, particularly with Bloomberg throwing his fortune around.

The world's 10th-richest man according to Forbes magazine, Bloomberg is doing what he can to help keep Preckwinkle's tax in place. He's spent $5 million of his own money on an online and TV advertising campaign trying to change public opinion about the tax.

Perhaps more importantly, Bloomberg has vowed to help those commissioners who support the tax to get re-elected, despite its unpopularity.

An August poll of more than 1,100 registered voters in Cook County showed 87 percent of respondents disapproved of the tax, which adds $1.44 to the cost of a 12-pack of canned soda, and 68 cents to a 2-liter bottle. 

Preckwinkle and other commissioners who voted for it claimed they did so for health reasons, saying sugary beverages such as soft drinks contribute to this country's very real epidemic of obesity and diabetes and the tax would act as a deterrent. Respondents to the poll weren't buying it.

When asked why they thought the County Board approved the cola tax, 80 percent responded that it was to raise money and only 8 percent said it was related to health concerns.

Of course, Preckwinkle proved it's nothing but a money grab last month when she tried to take millions of dollars from the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, which filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the sugary drink tax from taking effect. The lawsuit delayed enactment of the tax by a month but a judge eventually dismissed it. So Preckwinkle sought a month of lost revenue by attempting to claim $17 million in damages from IRMA. She was quickly shamed into dismissing the attempt.

And a new poll released Monday show that 85 percent of respondents favor a repeal. 

Bloomberg might truly believe a "sin" tax on sugary drinks can act as a deterrent against the purchase and consumption of them. He also has spent millions of dollars supporting similar campaigns in San Francisco, Oakland, Philadelphia and elsewhere.

But Cook County commissioners don't answer to Bloomberg. They answer to the voters who elected them to office. And that constituency has overwhelmingly said they do not like the tax.

Cook County Board members would be wise to listen to them and not the carpetbagger from New York.

Dan McCaleb is news director of Illinois News Network and the digital hub ILNews.org. He welcomes your comments. Email Dan at dmccaleb@ilnews.org.

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