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Stroger unveils whopping tax hikes

Thursday, October 18, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times

Oh no he didn't. Cook County President Todd Stroger didn't just propose tax increases that will give the county nearly a billion dollars in surplus money, did he? He did. What is he thinking?
Stroger wants you to pay an extra two cents on every dollar in sales taxes -- making Chicago's sales tax the highest in the country. That's 11 cents of every dollar spent here going to local, state or county government. Stroger unveiled his whopper of a plan Wednesday. The three-volume budget calls for doubling the county's parking tax, from $20 a month to $40 a month. The county's portion of the gas tax would also double from 6 cents to 12 cents. Those increases would kick in sometime next year to fill a $239.2 million budget gap in 2008.
Ah, but look what happens in 2009, when the county gets a full calendar year of those new taxes. It collects a staggering $981 million in extra money -- which Stroger admits is way more than the county will need. But don't worry, he says. He'll simply find a way to put the extra money back in taxpayers' pockets. He says he'd cut the parking tax and the gas tax, maybe even the real estate tax, which amounts to $720 million a year. He's not sure.
"We'll repeal the other taxes and the 2 percent will keep us going," he told the Sun-Times editorial board.
In other words, Stroger wants us to trust him.
Never mind that in the history of tax increases, governments are about as likely to refund extra money as they are to spend it wisely. The Stroger administration hasn't exactly proved itself to be trustworthy, what with all those six-figure hires, roped-off elevators for the president's exclusive use and other questionable moves. We don't trust him with that kind of money, and we don't think any overtaxed taxpayer will, either.
And with Mayor Daley's plan, we're really getting socked. Last week, Daley proposed a package of tax increases totaling $293 million, including a record $108 million property tax increase. Area residents may also have to pay a bit more to bail out the region's mass transit system. And that's on top of all the other little nickel-and-dime increases in the cost of living.
"Nobody ever wants to pay taxes. I don't want to pay taxes. I don't care what it is," Stroger said. So why make us pay more than we need to?
Stroger says if he doesn't have more money this year, the only thing he can cut is health care for the poor. We aren't convinced that health care is the only place where savings can be found. Instead of trimming personnel, Stroger has added more than 1,134 new people to the county payroll; admittedly some of them are court-mandated.
And why ask for so much extra cash? Stroger says he knows the county will need some of it next year. He thinks it's better to get it now in one fell swoop rather than having to come back to taxpayers year after year. We'd rather he defend every penny.
"If this is a Cadillac, this Cadillac is 1968," Stroger said, defending his ambitious budget.
Perhaps Stroger should start thinking Hyundai.

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