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Raise those taxes in Cook County

Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Daily Southtown

I sure hope the Cook County Board passes all of Todd Stroger's tax increases today.
There's a $4-a-month tax on every phone in a house. That includes land lines, cell phones, computer hook-ups, fax lines and maybe even television cables.
The Citizens Utility Board, a consumer watchdog agency, estimates that would cost the average homeowner in Cook County about $20 a month, or $240 a year.
The county also is considering doubling the county gas tax to 12 cents a gallon, increasing the tax on electricity use and raising the property tax to help the forest preserve district.
You remember all the hoopla down in Springfield over ComEd's rate increase. Legislators spent months negotiating a deal for rate relief. Well, the county tax hike would more than offset any savings consumers would see from that deal.
Raise all the taxes, I say.
And then Cook County voters may finally rise up in righteous indignation and vote against Stroger and all the political hacks who have demonstrated their complete disdain and contempt for taxpaying citizens.
It was the poorest of the poor who helped put Stroger in office.
They felt he was getting bad press. Many called it racism.
Since that time, Stroger has not only cut services that benefit some of the neediest folks in Cook County, but he has continued to pad the county payroll with friends and relatives.
He claims these people are qualified.
Even if that's true, Stroger should have realized that by hiring and promoting relatives and friends he was sending a signal to the community that he didn't care if he was providing ammunition to his critics - or enhancing the county's reputation for graft and corruption.
Stroger did what he wanted to do, and the heck with the people who voted for him.
So now he proposes taxes that are some of the most regressive in Cook County's history.
Regressive means that they hit poor folks the hardest.
Wealthy people can afford to pay $4 a phone line. They may not like the idea, but they'll survive and thrive and probably give themselves a pay raise that more than compensates for any increase in taxes.
But the poor people - the folks who struggle to make the rent, the car payment and put food on the table - they're the ones who will be hit hardest by the Stroger taxes.
Maybe that's only fair because they're the ones who use most of the county's services.
In the past, I would have taken their side. Not now.
They elected Stroger.
Some would say it was the Democratic ward bosses, who have always managed to control the votes of the poor and working class in Cook County, who made Stroger what he is today.
It was the ward bosses who put Stroger in as county board president when his father, John Stroger, became too ill to do the job.
But there was an election after that. An election where the choice became clear.
Stay with Stroger and the bad old ways of corruption, waste and nepotism or select Republican Tony Peraica, who promised to take the county in a new direction.
Peraica may not have been the dream choice to lead the county in a new direction, but his election would certainly have sent a signal to the Democrats that voters were tired of waste and mismanagement. Sometimes the only choice voters have is the lesser of two evils.
Instead, the voters chose Stroger.
"It's our time," some folks said.
So now it is your time to pay the bill.
People keep asking me if this state and county are the worst-run government in the nation.
All I can say is that we sure have to be a contender for the title.
There's not enough money for public transportation, schools, health care or any of the other services people need.
But taxes keep going up.
And elected officials, instead of acting like leaders, behave like spoiled children. They seem to feel no sense of personal responsibility. They certainly aren't held accountable for their actions.
Raise those taxes, Todd.
And if you get that tax money, hire your cousins and friends to $100,000-a-year jobs.
Heck, I wish you could hand every precinct captain in Chicago a scalpel and anoint them doctors at the county's main hospital, Stroger Hospital, named after your dad.
You've certainly done a fine job of surgically removing funds from the wallets of Cook County taxpayers.
There are plenty of other officials - elected and appointed, past and present - who have done their bit to bring "Crook County" to its knees. So maybe you don't deserve all the credit.
Nevertheless, you're now in a position to change things. You could have done something to convince voters that county government was heading for a new day.
Instead, you want to raise taxes on the poor.
My guess is that all of these taxes are being floated to make people feel better when the county board adopts some less oppressive scheme.
Taxpayers will breathe a sigh of relief.
Nothing will change.
Crook County will continue to run the way it always has, to the benefit of those with their hands in the till.

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