Cook County lays off more than 300 employees due to soda tax delay

CHICAGO (AP) - Layoff notices have been sent to 300 Cook County employees in the wake of the stalled implementation of a proposed sweetened drink tax.

The tax on sweetened beverages was supposed to go into effect July 1. A temporary restraining order was issued June 30 after the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and several grocers filed a lawsuit to block the tax. They say it is unconstitutional and too vague.

Cook County had projected collecting about $67.5 million in revenue from the tax this year and more than $200 million for fiscal year 2018.

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle says in a Friday statement that each county department had to cut 10 percent of its budget across the board to meet the revenue shortfall.

The state's attorney's office announced 17 prosecutors will be laid off, in addition to 22 other staffers.

The following is a statement from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle regarding the lay offs of more than 300 employees due to the budget crisis:

"Today we regrettably laid off more than 300 employees as a result of the County’s budget crisis. The exact number continues to change as our Human Resources Department works on this issue with departments, bureaus and the offices of separately elected officials. The personnel actions are necessary to address an approximately $68 million gap in our FY2017 that is directly related to the Illinois Retail Merchants Association’s (IRMA) lawsuit and Temporary Restraining Order that prohibits us from collecting the Sweetened Beverage Tax. Revenue from the tax was expected to help balance our FY 17 budget. Along with the layoffs, we are closing more than 600 vacant positions.

Every County bureau, department and separately elected office has to meet the 10% holdback that was mandated by the Budget Office, and I greatly appreciate the leaders of those agencies who have stepped up and met that challenge. We expect further reductions as we continue to work with the Sheriff and the Office of the Chief Judge to ensure real expenditure reductions in their budgets.

I regret that these actions are necessary – and I deeply regret the impact they have on individual employees. One of the main reasons I proposed the modest tax on sweetened beverages last year was specifically to avoid these kind of cuts.  I value the work undertaken by our dedicated employees as well as the services the County provides. The FY2017 budget, which was passed by the Board last November in a 13-4 vote, included that revenue. Unfortunately, the lawsuit filed by the IRMA and others just days before the tax was to take effect has led to what is likely to be a protracted legal fight. And while we believe we will ultimately prevail, we must take fiscally responsible actions now."

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