Wednesday, October 11, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Featured image: Mike Nutley, one of the owners of Ed’s Way in Forest Park, inside of his store earlier this summer. | Wednesday Journal File
The Cook County Board of Commissioners voted 15-1 on Wednesday to repeal the deeply unpopular sweetened beverage tax, which tacked on an additional penny per ounce onto certain sugary drinks. The roll back goes into effect on Dec. 1.
The tax was designed to help fill a $1.8 billion hole in the county’s budget. The office of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle — who was the tie-breaking vote in favor of the tax back when it passed the board in November 2016 — estimated that the tax could generate $200 million a year in revenue.
Preckwinkle, and other supporters of the tax, also argued that the measure could be a boon to the health of county residents by discouraging the consumption of drinks that have are correlated with obesity and other health problems.
On Oct. 10, after she realized that there were enough votes to overwhelmingly repeal the tax, Preckwinkle issued a statement expressing her disappointment with the outcome.
“As I outlined last week, it is up to the commissioners to choose our direction on revenue, and I respect their authority to do so,” she stated. “Now, together, we must chart a new course toward the eighth consecutive balanced budget of my tenure as board president.”
In a joint statement issued on Tuesday, the Illinois Public Health Institute and the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity decried the repeal measure as a “bad deal for county residents as taxpayers will continue to cover the rising costs of treating the chronic diseases caused by drinking too many sugary beverages while also seeing cuts to healthcare services for our most vulnerable communities.”
But critics of the sweetened beverage tax described it as a regressive tax that would disproportionately affect lower income residents while hurting county businesses.
A graphic, created by the Illinois Policy Institute, detailing the cost implications of the sweetened beverage tax. | Illinois Policy Institute
Ken Thomas, the manager of Leamington Foods, 550 Mannheim Road in Hillside, said that pop sales at the store were down 18 percent while total sales were down by 12 percent, he estimated.
“People would get to their registers, see the tax on their bills and want a refund,” Thomas explained during a phone interview on Wednesday. “A lot of people didn’t know about the tax when it happened. It took a little while but within two or three weeks, all I had were refunds.”
Mike Nutley, the owner of Ed’s Way Food Mart, 946 Beloit Ave. in Forest Park, said that his pop sales dropped by 20 percent, dragging down total sales along with it.
“I think it’s great that it was repealed,” he said. “It was a terrible tax. If you lose 20 percent of sales in one department, your total sales are going to be down, too. And it didn’t just apply to pop. It was Gatorade, Ocean Spray, you could go all through the store and the effect is all over the place.”
Both Thomas and Nutley said that they lost customers who, instead of pay the tax, would shop at stores in DuPage County.
“Elmhurst (which is in DuPage County) is just blocks away from me,” Thomas said. “I lot of people were saying they would go to DuPage County instead of paying that additional tax. I hope the customers come back.”
Jay Nelson, the director of operations for the Nelson family, which owns McDonald’s locations in Maywood, Bellwood and Oak Park, among other places, said that while his Bellwood store didn’t experience a drop in sales, he did hear lots of customer complaints after the beverage tax was implemented.
“Some (people) don’t necessarily understand that it’s the government who puts the tax on the drinks and chooses which drinks to tax,” Nelson said during an interview earlier this month. “We take the heat on that.”
Marcus Rafael, the manager at One Stop Express, 1014 S. 7th Ave., said that he’s relieved that the tax will be repealed.
“Nobody liked it,” he said. “Customers didn’t like, nobody. It hurts everybody. We were losing money from it.”
Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st), whose district includes Bellwood, Broadview and Maywood, expressed his approval for the repeal vote in a statement released on Oct. 11. Boykin, who voted against the tax last year, was among the most vocal supporters of repeal.
“The people have spoken and I am glad that my colleagues listened to their voices by repealing this regressive tax that was bad for families and bad for the business community,” he said. VFP
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