Want Cook County soda tax back? Questions on some ballots will ask, whether it's planned or not

Several suburban Cook County townships are putting advisory referendums on the Nov. 6 ballot to gauge public opinion on any possible reinstatement of last year's unpopular sweetened beverage tax, despite assertions by county board President Toni Preckwinkle's office that the tax won't return.

Elk Grove Township Supervisor Mike Sweeney said his board's July 23 vote, which apparently got the ball rolling for others that followed, was inspired by rumblings the tax could be reinstated after the November election.

"Being around Cook County for a while, it didn't seem that far-fetched," Sweeney said. "It seemed like a credible possibility."

While voters had no say in the penny-per-ounce tax that lasted from Aug. 2 to Nov. 30, 2017, Sweeney said he doesn't want that to happen again.

"If there is any legitimate effort to bring this back in any form, at least now they can go to the ballot box and sound off on that directly," he said.

But Preckwinkle's spokesman Frank Shuftan said in no uncertain terms that no effort to restore the tax exists.

"We are developing the (2019) budget without new revenue," Shuftan said. "That budget will be unveiled in October - as it is every year. Whoever is trafficking in the rumor that our administration is considering reviving the sweetened beverage tax for the upcoming fiscal year is badly mistaken or worse, is intentionally peddling misinformation.

"For the umpteenth time, the board voted to rescind the tax effective Dec. 1 of last year," Shuftan added. "Game, set, match."

Other townships following Elk Grove's example in recent weeks include Hanover, Lemont, Maine, Palatine and Schaumburg.

The Cook County clerk's office won't have a comprehensive list of Nov. 6 referendums until Thursday, spokesman Nick Shields said.

Schaumburg Township Supervisor Mary Wroblewski said she wasn't sure where the referendum idea originated, but the language her township board approved was borrowed. It asks, "Should the Cook County Board of Commissioners reinstate the Cook County Sweetened Beverage Tax Ordinance (also known as the Soda Tax) to fill an $82 million county budget deficit?"

Sweeney said that figure is in Elk Grove Township's question as well and based on Preckwinkle's description of the deficit in media reports.

Though the question is asked in an objective tone, Wroblewski said her expectation based on last year's public outcry is that the majority will vote no.

"I would assume that, but it's a message to the Cook County Board," Wroblewski said.

"Last time everyone felt that way, but there was no visible way to show how strongly people felt."

The referendum won't cost taxpayers any money, Wroblewski added.

Not every township putting such a referendum on the ballot is using the exact same wording, but all ask voters to weigh in about the reinstatement of the tax.

Maine Township officials discussed tweaking the wording of their question - and even debated the necessity for it - before voting to move ahead with the referendum by a 5-0 vote Aug. 16.

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Mike Sweeney
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