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New tax proposals should wait until county trims the fat

Thursday, August 02, 2007
Daily Southtown

The issue: Indications are that Cook County will be looking to raise new revenue through taxes, though Board President Stroger says he is opposed to a property tax hike.
We say: Before county residents are socked with more taxes, the county should look at its current personnel roster and cut unneeded jobs.
When he ran for Cook County board president last year, Todd Stroger said he was opposed to a property tax increase his first year in office.
In the wake of his first budget battle, Stroger in late May said property tax hikes should be considered. Last week, he said he was opposed to them.
Then on Monday, in announcing that prosecutors would be receiving raises to put their salaries more in line with public defenders, Stroger said "some kind of increase" to raise revenue would be needed. Without it, Stroger said, the county would "have to cut services so severely there'd be some real hardship."
On Tuesday, he again reiterated his opposition to property tax increases, and he also said increasing fees for services would not generate the money the county needs to be solvent. But he was vague on what other ways the county could raise money.
It's pretty clear, though, that some tax proposal is in the works. Although Stroger will be able to say he held the line on property taxes (a popular mantra of his father during his reign as county board president), county residents (or visitors) will be asked -- make that ordered -- to reach into their pockets to help keep county government afloat. Perhaps it'll be an increase in the sales tax or the cigarette tax. Or maybe something else. Who knows?
This most recent discussion about taxes comes a week after a federal court document revealed that the practice of political patronage appears to be alive and well in Cook County.
Between August 2004 and February 2007, there were 119 complaints filed by people who claim they were victims of the county's vaunted patronage practices. The document was in the form of a report filed by a former judge who was appointed by the court to monitor whether the county was in compliance with the Shakman decree, which outlaws political hiring.
Those 119 instances deal with complaints by people who claim they have been impacted negatively by patronage -- for example, being passed over for a promotion or not getting hired for a job despite being qualified.
But we believe there are many more examples of patronage within county government. Some people -- unfortunately for taxpayers -- have been impacted positively by patronage. Those are the workers who have gotten their jobs through political connections -- and too often they do little to earn the salaries they are being paid.
We're still not convinced the Stroger administration has done enough to weed out these workers. Yes, cutbacks have occurred in the health department to trim its massive budget, and many of the jobs lost were high-skilled positions.
But there isn't enough evidence to suggest that patronage jobs within other departments were put through the same scrutiny. In the meantime, Stroger has found ways to hire many of his cronies for well-paying county jobs and to promote others already on the payroll.
So to repeat what we've said in the past, before Stroger starts talking about raising taxes, he should go over the personnel roster very carefully and eliminate the fat.
It's no secret the Democratic Party needs patronage to sustain itself. But this shouldn't be about party politics. It should be about good government.
Stroger has the chance to bring county government into a new era -- one that provides necessary services, is fiscally responsible and puts constituents before ward bosses.

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