Editorial: Cook County races should be about more than beverage tax
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle avoided a primary challenge Thursday when county Commissioner Richard Boykin announced he would run for re-election to his 1st District seat instead of challenging the sitting county board president.
Boykin's decision has merely delayed the inevitable. Not that Preckwinkle is destined to have a primary opponent in her bid for re-election to a third term -- she may not.
We're talking about the inevitable descent into campaign madness. Make no mistake, the upcoming county elections will be among the loudest, angriest -- and most expensive -- ever fought in Cook County. And it's all because of the sweetned-beverage tax, which may even be a moot point after Oct. 10, when members of the county board opposed to the tax will try again to marshal the votes to repeal it. Whether or not the tax still exists as the 2018 campaigns heat up, what we do know is that millions of dollars will be spent by outside forces to influence the outcome of the county elections.
Billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who tried and failed to ban supersized sugary drinks in New York, has already committed $5 million to keep the beverage tax alive in Cook County, arguing it is a public health issue. He has pledged millions more to support pro-beverage tax candidates.
On the other side of the debate is the sugar industry, which so far has committed millions to repealing the tax and is expected to commit millions more to the candidates on its side -- especially if the tax is not repealed on Oct. 10.
So, who could blame voters for thinking the upcoming election is a referendum on the beverage tax and nothing else?
That is how the outsiders about to pour money into the Cook County campaigns want voters to think. And certainly, how citizens feel about the beverage tax will figure prominently into how they view the candidates.
We've made it clear that we believe the beverage tax as currently conceived is a mistake, and moreover was sold to the public in a disingenuous way. We also believe there is something very real about the health effects of too much sugar in our diets, particularly in our children's diets. These are important considerations - but there are many more in a county with a population comparable to that of Colorado, including how to fill a potential $200 million hole in the budget if the beverage tax is repealed. It's going to be up to the Cook County voting public to demand more of the campaigners, in order to push past the outsider-sponsored bombast on the beverage tax. Voters also will need to look at the county's fiscal health and decide which candidates can best make sure the county board meets its obligations to its citizens.
Our prescription for the next 14 months: earplugs and common sense.