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Todd's tax hike as gross as Rod's

Monday, October 01, 2007
Crain's Chicago Business

Even at a time when political leaders across the state are pursuing irresponsible, grandiose and self-serving agendas, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's $1-billion sales tax plan still stands out.

County commissioners will vote Monday on his proposal to more than triple the county sales tax rate to 2.75% from 0.75%. If passed, it would increase the sales tax burden in much of Cook County to 11%, the highest in the country, as Greg Hinz reported on last week.

Mr. Stroger's sales tax increase, along with his proposed hike in the related use tax, would raise $1 billion in new money for county government. He's vague on how he'd spend all that extra cash. In fact, he hadn't even presented his budget when he called last week for a vote on the tax hike. He's since projected that county revenue will fall short of expenses by $307 million next year, less than one-third of the amount his sales tax increase would raise.

Even that number is suspect. The Stroger administration is characterizing as "revenue shortfalls" predictable expenses like debt service, pension contributions and costs related to the 2008 presidential election.

Perhaps Mr. Stroger is only floating the 2.75% increase as a starting point for negotiations that will lead to a smaller, more rational hike. If that's what he's thinking, he should consider the fate of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's $7-billion gross-receipts tax, an example of how overreaching can lead to total defeat, not compromise.

Mr. Stroger, however, clearly believes he can get away with anything. He won office despite the blatant manipulations through which his ailing father — ably assisted by Commissioner William Beavers and the rest of the 8th Ward organization — bequeathed him the Democratic nomination.

County commissioners must not let him get away with this one. A tax hike so heavy will hit the poorest county residents hardest. And it will hammer business by giving customers even more incentive to drive across the county line to shop. Cook County can't afford this tax hike.

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