Manifolds, Manolos & Manure...by Bona Heinsohn
My blue-eyed girl will readily tell anyone who will listen that her parents run on coffee, and definitely not decaf coffee. In fact, there are very few things that I’d trade for my coffee. One of those things happens to be an ice cold fountain Dr. Pepper (but not in the morning).
That same blue-eyed girl will also tell you that her parents don’t chase sales. My husband is notorious for figuring out how much traveling to a different store to save money will cost you in the long run. He tells his brother and mother at every opportunity. And happily, he will tell his brother how much money he’s wasted trying to decide what to buy and where to buy it.
I have to admit, Toni Preckwinkle’s sugar tax isn’t going to deter me from having a Dr. Pepper with lunch. But I’m not buying a six- or twelve-pack either. And I’m especially not buying a Diet Dr. Pepper and paying a sugar tax for no sugar.
Imagine that. Cook County is collecting a sugar tax on diet beverages made without real sugar. Interesting since Preckwinkle claims that the tax is intended to deter sugar consumption and improve public health as opposed to just raising funds for a government that continues to give raises large enough to make corporate America blush.
Speaking of sugar, sugar laden coffee drinks made at retailers frequented by suit-wearing loop-goers, are exempt from the tax. Do note that a 20-ounce Dr. Pepper has 64 grams of sugar. A 20-ounce Caramel Cocoa Cluster blended milk drink boosts 85 grams of sugar. Don’t get me wrong, both drinks are well over the daily limit of 25 grams recommended by the American Heart Association. But if the basis of Preckwinkle’s tax is to deter sugar consumption, shouldn’t it be levied on a drink with 85 grams of sugar?
Let’s next ignore the tax’s spotty implementation and talk some about history. Preckwinkle was first elected in 2010 after pledging to repeal Todd Stroger’s much hated penny on the dollar sales tax. Anyone other than me remember her Benjamin Franklin television commercials? Commissioners eventually repealed the tax.
In 2015, after successfully winning re-election in 2014 Preckwinkle revived Stroger’s tax and christened it as her own. She also successfully fought for a one percent hotel tax. Clearly the additional $474 million from taxpayers generated by the sales tax increase wasn’t enough padding for her taxing resume. Instead she needed an additional $31 million. Policy wonks will tell you that the county needed the additional revenue to cover the costs associated with the health and justice systems. But even they can’t ignore the substantial payroll increases since Preckwinkle took office.
Along rolls 2016 and Preckwinkle casted the tie-breaking vote to approve her beloved sugar tax. July follows in haste and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association sues to halt the implementation of Preckwinkle’s tax. The retailers’ suit alleged that the tax was unconstitutional and too vague to implement. The judge later tossed the suit and in response Preckwinkle filed a countersuit asking for $17 million in damages for the loss in revenue. $17 million in lost revenue, not lost opportunity, to educate the public about the dangers of sugar consumption.
Preckwinkle later withdrew the challenge after County Board commissioners laid plans to introduce an ordinance to require board approval before the county attorney can sue for damages.
Preckwinkle’s tax even ran into trouble with the federal government who have threatened to withhold $87 million in food stamp money because the tax is being incorrectly levied. The county has allowed retailers to collect the tax on food stamp purchases and then refund the amount at the customer service desk for those purchases made using food stamps. Federal rules provide that a tax cannot be collected.
Unfortunately for Preckwinkle, the fun is still going on. Commissioners Sean Morrison, Richard Boykin, John Fritchey, Timothy Schneider, and Jeffrey Toboloski are introducing an ordinance calling for the repeal of the tax. That ordinance will be introduced on September 13. Add your voice to the chorus calling for the repeal.
Regarding the ordinance, the sponsors are bi-partisan. And one has floated a potential run for Preckwinkle’s job. Perhaps he will remember that some consumers may enjoy a Dr. Pepper right before they vote. I know I will.