Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle was back out defending her controversial beverage tax Friday for the second time in as many days, saying she's not surprised opponents have formed a political action committee to try to defeat it.
A multimillion-dollar ad war already has been going on for weeks. Preckwinkle said the recent formation of Citizens for a More Affordable Cook County to back County Board candidates who oppose the tax was to be expected given the deep-pocketed beverage industry's fight to overturn it.
"What's happened in American politics is that it used to be individual contributions and corporate contributions, and now a lot of the action is in political action committees," she said. "So it doesn't surprise me. You know, Big Soda has been spending a fortune to attack our sweetened beverage tax, not only last fall around budget time, but starting in the spring as we were moving toward implementation."
"These folks have a very problematic product and they know it, and they're spending a lot of money to promote consumption. I think it's disgraceful," Preckwinkle added.
The anti-tax committee hasn't reported any money in its coffers yet, but in an announcement Thursday it said: "Citizens for a More Affordable Cook County is a community PAC that receives support from businesses, their customers and residents and will be a voice for the millions of Cook County citizens devastated by unfair, regressive and skyrocketing taxes."
With opponents of the tax on the Cook County Board set to introduce an ordinance Wednesday to repeal it, Preckwinkle has been out touting its benefits in fighting health problems and helping the county's bottom line.
She discussed the situation Friday at a news conference downtown to promote a new law that will allow most juveniles with criminal records to see those records automatically expunged rather than linger in their official backgrounds into adulthood.
Preckwinkle declined to discuss the likelihood that opponents will be able to build enough support to overturn the penny-per-ounce tax on a wide variety of sweetened drinks. "My expectation is that we will continue to collect this tax, and I know there's a repeal measure that's coming before the body," she said. "My expectation is that that matter will go to committee, as is the regular order of business."
"It will become part of the budget process," she said when asked whether she will try to hold it in committee rather than allowing it to come to the full board for a vote.
On Thursday, Preckwinkle spoke to reporters about the beverage tax at a Little Village event to promote a 2-year-old partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to public health patients who are "food insecure."
- Toni Preckwinkle