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No justification for Stroger's sales tax hike

Friday, September 28, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times

The Issue: Todd Stroger is pushing a $750 million sales tax hike without revealing a budget plan to justify the increase.
We say: It's an outrage, and the people of Cook County should not put up with it.
Todd Stroger and his cronies on the Cook County Board say they don't know what they want to buy next year, but they do know they want you to give them another $750 million to pay for it.
Stroger, president of the county board, reportedly is working behind the scenes to gather support for a 2-cent increase in the county sales tax. That would give Stroger and friends an additional $750 million to play with each year.
The county already collects three-fourths of a cent in sales taxes on every dollar you spend in the county. Stroger's increase would raise the rate to 2.75 percent.
The state already collects 5 cents per dollar, and the city of Chicago collects another 2.25 cents per dollar. The RTA collects 1 percent in Cook County. So if Stroger gets his way, sales tax on purchases in Chicago will be 11 cents per dollar.
Stroger must have a good reason for wanting this tax increase, right? The answer is, who knows? Certainly not the taxpayers of Cook County or even some members of the county board. Last week, four members of the board issued a statement calling on Stroger to explain how big next year's budget deficit will be and to detail the additional revenues he'll be seeking, before the public hearing scheduled for Monday at 9 a.m. in the Cook County Building.
And the sales tax might not be the end of it. Stroger's administration already has floated proposals for yet another increase in the tax on cigarettes and a separate tax on cigars and loose tobacco. That's an easy one - everybody's happy to see more taxes on smokers, except for the smokers, but there aren't enough of them left to make a difference. And Commissioner William Beavers, who some say is the real brains behind the Stroger administration, has proposed a utility tax on electricity and natural gas bills.
But as Commissioners Forrest Claypool, Mike Quigley, Timothy Schneider and Larry Suffredin pointed out in their statement the other day, there is no budget plan yet, which means no one has any idea what Stroger wants to buy with all this new money. No one knew until late Wednesday how big a deficit was being projected. The word now is that they're projecting a $307 million deficit, about the same as last year's.
But without a budget plan, can Stroger expect anyone to support a gigantic tax increase? Apparently, he does. Stroger reportedly is recruiting a group of ministers to stage a rally Sunday supporting the sales tax hike. They must have faith that Todd's plan will be right and just.
We don't. Remember last year's debacle of a budget process? To give the appearance of fiscal responsibility, Stroger dumped almost 2,000 county workers from the lowest-paying jobs on the county payroll, many of them from the health bureau, whose services are critical to the county's least privileged residents. Meanwhile, Stroger added 1,200 workers who make more than $60,000 a year and kept constant the number who make $100,000 or more.
Can we expect more of the same in the new budget - cutting necessities and padding the patronage payroll? Of course. What reason do we have to expect anything else?
This proposal - hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes without an explanation - is an outrage, and the public should not put up with it.

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