"Taps" for soda tax may herald birth of new movement


Glug-glug-glug, belch, ahhh!

Oh excuse me, that was just me enjoying a can of pop. Or that will be me on December 1st, once the short-lived Cook County “soda” tax becomes history.

But we don’t have to wait until December 1 to enjoy the sweet sound of no more pro and anti-tax commercials, the former brought to us courtesy of Michael Bloomberg. It has been suggested that Bloomberg, if he cares so much about all of our health, should have just given his millions directly to the Cook County public health department instead of blowing it all on intelligence-insulting ads that probably did more to turn the public against the tax than anything else.

One especially disingenuous ad featured a nurse talking about obese kids who can’t walk and tried to convince us that making us all pay a tax on “sweetened” beverages was the cure for this problem. Here’s an idea: try parenting. Try putting fat little Johnny on a diet. Don’t punish me because you use the TV as a babysitter and let your kid sit on the couch all day stuffing his face with Cheetos.

But all this aside, we must stop and appreciate the remarkable event we just witnessed. The Cook County government, which along with the city of Chicago never stops discovering new things to tax us on, failed to push through a new tax and make it stick. In the nearly two decades I’ve lived in the city, this is the first time I’ve witnessed anything like this.

Now I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that the anti-tax forces were organized and bolstered by the considerable muscle and coffers of the beverage industry. It was not by any means some sort of grassroots people’s movement. I rarely take the side of powerful industry coalitions, but in this case they happened to be in the same fight as small mom-and-pop retailers who bore the brunt of this ill-conceived tax and county consumers who are already taxed up the wazoo.

The public hostility toward this tax was fueled in no small measure by the fiscal mismanagement and corruption that’s endemic at the state and local levels in Illinois, no more so than in Cook County. The knowledge that an incompetent government was again digging into our wallets for yet more cash to misuse, and for something as silly as nonalcoholic soft drinks, was the breaking point for a lot of people. They bombarded their commissioner’s office with calls and emails. As one commisioner said after last week’s repeal vote, “The people spoke.”

This made me think: Imagine if this taxpayer victory sparked a movement, signaled the dawn of citizen revolt against all kinds of unfair and inequitable things, and not just new taxes? Endless utility company rate increases and Metra fare hikes, which get pushed through with little resistance.

In these cases there would of course be no powerful industry backing. But it would be great if the voices that rose up against the soda tax could get as organized and passionate around other local fiscal issues that affect us all, the working people of Chicagoland. Power in numbers. Then, and only then, will things begin to change in our favor.

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