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Stroger’s county tax increase would plunder the poor

Thursday, October 04, 2007
Chicago Defender
by Glenn Reedus

In case you haven’t noticed, Chicago has developed a season between summer and fall; it’s tax season.

The city and county are running deficits and the top finance people at both places maintain they’ve looked in between and under all of the sofa cushions and still can’t come up with the money to put their operations in the black.

They’ve come up with identical strategies to raise revenues – taxes, more taxes.

While the mayor and the city are looking at slapping a tax on bottled water, gasoline, SUV stickers and a host of other products; the county’s approach is much simpler – tax nearly whatever folk buy.

Unfortunately for Cook County residents, there have been no presentations on why we should support this increase.  While no one is disputing there is a looming budget shortfall, many want to know what will be done with the new revenues generated by a sales tax.

Another pressing question for county officials is whether this has to be a tax that paints everyone with the same broad brush.  The question becomes can some exceptions be made to how the new tax is applied.

Although there are some exceptions to what will be taxed – groceries, motor craft, cars, motorcycles, pharmaceuticals, eyeglasses, contact lenses, and dentures - the tax will have a greater proportional impact on the poor more so than the affluent.

A family in Lawndale, with no convenient major department store or means for accessing one, pays $75 for a child’s winter coat.  The same size family in Beverly pays $66 for the same item.  It is readily apparent that the 2 percent bump in price disproportionately affects the family least able to cope with it financially.

Families in economically depressed areas are already paying more for their basic goods compared to those in sectors of the community that are faring better.  Families in economically depressed areas aren’t consistently spending money on life’s fineries such as Jet Skis, all-terrain vehicles, $70 bottles of wine and $40 cigars.

Maybe the county’s best approach is to have a tiered tax increase that will exempt some items beyond the basic goods, and assess even more than 2 percent to others.  The county also could help itself enormously by first putting in place and distributing a proposed budget to commissioner and the general public.  Currently, everyone is being asked to support an increase with no concrete assurances of where the dollars from the increase will go.

Skeptics undoubtedly are believing many of the new dollars will find their way into the general fund.  It’s incumbent upon County Board President Todd Stroger and each of his financial sharpshooters to detail where the money will go and how it will be spent.  Letting residents know that the money will be used for more than health care services is another truth that needs to be given more attention.

Because commissioners opted not to vote on the initial sales tax proposal, the county will be required to wait until April before it is able to collect on the 2 percent increase if it is approved later this month.

A successful proposal would need to be submitted to the state for review and approval.

Like the county, the City of Chicago is starting at an enormous deficit - $193 million.  But unlike Stroger, Mayor Richard Daley is pushing a shopping cart of options at the city legislators.

Daley unabashedly says he wants to punish Chicagoans who prefer the comfort of their own vehicles to public transportation.

His strategy to spur use of mass transit is a five-cents-a-gallon tax increase.  He seems unfazed by the fact that Chicagoans are already paying more for gas than any place else in the country.

If the mayor has his way, city residents can look for an increase in property taxes – enough to raise about $108 million.  Much of that, according to Daley, would be spent on new libraries – one of the legacies of his six terms.  One has to wonder however, with the dropping prices of personal computers, the growing number of Internet users, and online innovation after innovation, are libraries the wisest choice for city dollars.

Another item in the mayor’s shopping cart is a tax on bottled water.  With the average American drinking 14 gallons of bottled water annually, the 10 cents tax levies will add up in a hurry.

Eating in a restaurant and ordering bottled water will mean a double whammy as the mayor is proposing a 0.25 percent bump in the restaurant meals tax.

Throw in additional taxes on liquor, lease transactions and parking; and a night on the town has gotten expensive.

Tourists are likely to be the major supporters of some of these taxes, but will the taxes be a deterrent for their return visits.

The pressing question for the county and city leaders is how soon will they be back again reaching into our pockets.



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