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I voted to keep the Sweetened Beverage Tax because it was a tax on a small number of people rather than a general sales or property tax on all. This tax had a twofold purpose, first, it provided enough revenue to balance our 2017 budget without gimmicks; and, secondly, it helped us fight the increase in heart disease, diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis and the high cost of treatment.
In addition and unfortunately, the repeal of the Sweetened Beverage Tax also repeals the law that prohibited the raising of any taxes by the County until after 2020. This tax limitation covered property taxes, sales taxes and home rule excise taxes. The repeal of the tax limitation means all taxes are in play.
The most important role of a County Commissioner is to pass a yearly budget that meets the needs of the residents and fairly balances services and costs. The functions of County government are often unknown to our own citizens because only a small number of citizens are directly involved in public safety or public health services. Over two-third of the County budget goes to both public safety and public health.
Public safety, through the Chief Judge, Sheriff, Medical Examiner, State’s Attorney, Public Defender, and Circuit Court Clerk, provide our frontline of defense to lawlessness and violence in our communities.
Public health, through the Cook County Health and Hospital System, provide our frontline of care to the 1.1 million residents of Cook County on Medicaid and others who are without any form of medical coverage.
The budget process involves weeks of hearings and discussion on what is the best mix of taxes, fees and grants to fund a balanced service budget. This process has safe guards to protect against excesses. I have always been very active in the budget process offering more tax savings and service modification amendments than most Commissioners. The agreement to prohibit further taxation until 2020 came out of the budget process.
The key to the 2017 budget was a new Sweetened Beverage Tax, which like other excise taxes on liquor and tobacco, was reasonable. The budget this tax would support did the following:
Streamlined our work force which in the last 5 years has been reduced by 6300 full time jobs;
Stabilized our Cook County Health and Hospital System staffing to meet changing patient needs; and
Increased the utilization of County Care dollars to reduce the dependency on County taxpayer support from $400 million to $111 million.
After the 2017 budget process was finished the following occurred:
First, when proposed the Sweetened Beverage Tax covered all purchases. The Obama Administration told the County that SNAP recipients could be taxed. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration changed that;
Second, the implementation rules were more complex than many retailers could handle with their point of sale systems;
Third, rules confusion led to a lawsuit in which the retailers sued and initially won and then lost and now they appeal; and
Fourth, after the imposition of the tax on August 2nd, both opponents and supporters of the tax started a barrage of TV, radio and print ads and mail.
Unfortunately, the messaging created many misunderstandings about the tax.
Finally, the will of the Board changed on this tax. It was repealed. I voted to keep the tax because it was a reasonable tax with prohibition on further tax increases; and it is bad policy to change taxes outside the budget process.
I want to acknowledge and thank the many citizens who expressed their thoughts on this tax.
Larry Suffredin, Cook County Commissioner, 13th District