Many Cook County residents will be saying good riddance to the sweetened beverage tax as it begins to be phased out Friday, but for some, the repeal of the controversial tax isn't all good.
With the repeal of the tax comes a wave of layoffs for county employees, a move officials say is necessary to make up for the loss in funds the tax would have generated for the county's budget.
The tax, which was repealed by the Cook County board earlier this year, elicited an avalanche of criticism when it was instituted. Sugary beverages in were subject to a one-cent-per-ounce tax thanks to the bill, but a groundswell of opposition led to its repeal in October.
County Board President Toni Preckwinkle warned of dire budget cuts when the tax was repealed earlier this year, and more than 300 workers face layoffs after the board approved its 2018 budget earlier this month.
“Through shared sacrifice and cooperation we were able to develop and pass a balanced budget,” Preckwinkle said of the vote. “We have had to make exceedingly difficult but necessary choices, but we have met our fiscal obligation to the people of Cook County.”
Among those at risk of losing their jobs are positions in the Cook County Assessor's office, the Board of Review, the Chief Judge, the sheriff's office and others.
Still, Chief Cook County Judge Timothy Evans has promised legal action, announcing a lawsuit to block the cuts targeting the court system. A hearing on the suit has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday.
Preckwinkle says that a nearly $200 million budget gap was created when commissioners voted to repeal the tax, but the combination of spending cuts and lay-offs helped to close the gap, according to the president.
The controversy over the tax still hasn’t fully subsided, as former Board President Todd Stroger has announced that he will run against Preckwinkle to try to unseat her in the next county election.