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No to taxes, yes to fees
It’s more than semantics for Cook County Board

Saturday, February 10, 2007
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

They’re not taxes. They’re fees.
Got that?
The Cook County Board’s finance committee voted to institute or raise a number of fees Friday, calling them that even though some spirited debate left hazy just what the difference is between a fee and a tax.
The debate started after Chicago Commissioner Roberto Maldonado, a Democrat, amended the wording of three of his income-raising measures, changing the word “tax” to “fee” to try to make them more palatable.
“Am I right that the case law and the Constitution says ‘fee’ cannot be a revenue-generating endeavor but can be a reimbursement to us for a function that we provide?” asked Commisioner Larry Suffredin.
“I would agree with your definition,” said Patrick Driscoll, the chief of the Cook County state’s attorney’s civil division.
By that definition, all of Maldonado’s measures appeared to fail the “fee” test, just as they eventually failed to pass. His proposed fee on SUV sales failed, while a proposed fee on bullet sales didn’t even get a second to be voted on. A motion to charge a fee on sulfur dioxide emissions was deferred to Feb. 20.
But other fees, such as doubling the cost of activities regulated by the county’s environmental control department, including refuse burning and the storing of volatile chemicals, appeared to pass muster with the fee definition. So, too, did a new fee of $500 for the impounding of vehicles used in prostitution and drug sales.
Suffredin said the $500 would reimburse the county for time spent by deputies taken off the street to process impoundment paperwork as well as court costs.
The panel also agreed to a new $1 entrance fee at off-track betting parlors. That was approved before the fee vs. tax debate erupted, so a “fee” it is.
The fee/tax rhetoric may be due in part to Cook County Board President Todd Stroger saying earlier this week that he’s open to fee hikes, but not tax increases.
He voiced support for some of Maldonado’s revenue increases, even though he vowed not to raise taxes during his fall campaign. When told Maldonado had phrased his measures as tax increases, Stroger offered his own definition.
“That doesn’t make it a tax just because he said it,” said Stroger, laughing.
The fee increases still must be officially approved by the county board but are expected to pass, since the finance committee consists of the entire board.


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