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Stroger open to hiking taxes on utility bills, cigarettes.
Look for waste, not things to tax, critic says

Friday, September 07, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger says proposals to increase natural gas and electricity bills to cover county government spending are "sound ideas" that deserve consideration.

Those ideas, as well as plans to hike the cigarette or sales tax, were introduced Thursday by County Board members loyal to Stroger.

Those ideas, as well as plans to hike the cigarette or sales tax, were introduced Thursday by County Board members loyal to Stroger.

Stroger said the utility tax plans were vetted by his staffers before being introduced and are among the ideas being floated so the board can "look at some proposals and talk about what they could support and make sure that we keep the doors open" for tax hike options.

The county has no utility taxes now, and a cigarette tax increase was implemented just two years ago.

To some, such trial balloons might as well be filled with lead.

"If they spent as much time looking for places to cut waste and improve efficiencies as they did looking for things to tax, this government would be in much better shape," said Commissioner Tim Schneider, one of several board members expected to oppose a tax hike.

'There is no more patronage'

There has also been talk of a tax on cell phones or even hiking the county's share of property taxes for the first time in a decade to cover the county's 2008 budget.

Asked if now is the time to add even more to utility bills, given recent rate hikes, Stroger said, "That's a really good question," but he didn't answer.

"Anything we tax is going to be passed on to somebody," he said later.

A tax hike of some sort is all but certain, given the massive cuts in last year's budget and that Stroger maintains there is no more waste to cut from county government.

Commissioners William Beavers and Joseph Mario Moreno are floating the tax ideas with Stroger's blessing, but they're already facing resistance.

But Beavers said board critics "need to do one thing or get off the pot. There is no more patronage. The county has been cut to the bone."

The county's fiscal year ends in December, but a budget must be passed by the end of February.



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