Cook County soda tax 'about money,' not 'health care'

An overflow crowd is expected at Wednesday’s meeting of the Cook County board.

On the agenda: possible repeal of that controversial penny-per-ounce soda tax.

As Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle defended the soda tax Tuesday, she showed reporters where surgeons at the county's Provident Hospital treat eye diseases linked to diabetes and consumption of sugar drinks.

“When people ask me why I support a tax on sweetened beverages, my answer is…we know the consumption of sugar is directly linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay, conditions our health and hospitals system is already spending hundreds of millions of dollars to treat,” Preckwinkle said.

Preckwinkle said sugar-related diseases cost Cook County taxpayers far more than the $200 million or so she hopes to collect from the soda tax. While a growing number of local governments are adopting such taxes, the multi-billion dollar industry is focusing the fight on Cook County, by far the biggest.

“This has never been about health care. This has always been about money and revenue. This is a money grab. What we gotta do? We gotta can the tax!” said county commissioner Richard Boykin.

Boykin, who's all but announced his intention to run against Preckwinkle in the Democratic primary next march, said he expects Wednesday’s county board vote on suspending the rules to immediately repeal the tax to be close.

For her part, Preckwinkle said she's confident she has the votes to refer the repeal proposal to a committee. She wants to hold public hearings on the issue this fall.