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Cook County Lays Off 300 Employees, With Proposed Soda Tax Stalled

By Rachel Cromidas in News on Jul 14, 2017 10:38PM

The expensive stuff / Getty Images / Photo: Justin Sullivan

Cook County had to lay off over 300 employees Friday, after a lawsuit stalled the adoption of a county soda tax proposal that was supposed to help fill a budget shortfall.

The cuts, plus an estimated 600 vacant positions that will now go unfilled, are the result of a need for each department across the county to cut its budget by 10 percent, according to County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. It's going to be a big blow to many offices that were already feeling short-staffed, or are dealing with a backlog of County matters.

One area that is especially expected to feel the squeeze is the county's courts. The Tribune found that the state's attorney's office laid off 17 prosecutors and 22 other staff members, and the public defender's office laid off 69 employees, "most of whom are lawyers." Public Defender Amy Campanelli told the Tribune that the loss would be "devastating" and would delay trials and trial resolutions.

The tax on soda and other similar beverages was projected to bring in some $67.5 million in revenue in the 2017 fiscal year, and over $200 million in the next, according to county officials, but just a day before it was slated to go into effect July 1, a lawsuit filed by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association successfully stalled the tax. The suit argues that the law is unconstitutional, and there is now a temporary restraining order on the tax that must be lifted for it to go into effect.