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Stroger blasts Devine, others for not backing his tax hikes
Devine singled out for not backing $3.2 billion budget

Thursday, October 25, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo | Tribune staff reporter

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger criticized State's Atty. Richard Devine and the other countywide elected officials Wednesday for not standing with him on his proposed tax increases when the new money would support their budgets.

The first-term county leader said he was particularly disappointed in Devine, who last summer successfully lobbied him and the County Board for pay raises for his employees.

Stroger has been under fire since proposing a $3.2 billion budget last week that includes a 2-percentage-point increase in the sales tax and hikes in the county parking and gasoline taxes. The budget includes spending plans for all county officials.
"I'm disappointed in all of them, especially the state's attorney, since he stated that he realized the pressure that we would be under after we approved the [raises] for the non-union employees," Stroger said after a luncheon speech to the City Club of Chicago. "All of them need to stand up and say, 'We know that there's a problem. This is how we run our offices. It's efficient. And the only way to keep running it is to have new revenue.'"

John Gorman, Devine's spokesman, said in response: "For months now, the state's attorney has said that he would support finding the resources needed to support the [pay raises] granted by the board. But he has also questioned, directly to the president, the approach of raising more revenue than we need."

If approved, the three tax increases would generate $888 million annually for the county. Stroger has been criticized for excessive taxation because the projected budget deficit for next year is $239 million.

Stroger said a lag in collecting the taxes means only $239 million would be realized in 2008. He said the county's ongoing budget problems will require even more revenue in the future. Stroger contends that it makes more sense to fix the county's revenue problem now by approving the increase in the sales tax, which grows with the economy, rather than come back to the County Board each year seeking "patchwork" fixes.

The public got its first chance to weigh in on Stroger's tax-hike proposals Wednesday night. The first 20 people who signed up to speak were mostly county employees and patients at the county's Oak Forest Hospital, where the hearing took place.

About 250 people came out for the hearing, which moved slowly as commissioners gave speeches. Myrna Jurcev of Oak Lawn drew applause for telling commissioners she was there "to protest ever increasing taxes on the residents of Cook County."

Robert Culp, 72, a tool-and-die maker from unincorporated Tinley Park, complained about the proposal to raise the gas tax. "It just seems to overwhelm me," Culp said. "No matter what I do I can't catch up."

Culp said the county should rein in spending.

"Let's get this thing in balance somewhere guys," Culp said.

Don Meyers, 60, of Tinley Park, said his paycheck "is going down faster than the Titanic."

The hearing had its share of political theater as well. Milton Shackelford, 64, of Flossmoor, a self-described "concerned citizen," said he came out to "support this budget. I'm willing to pay."

As Shackelford walked out, a Stroger spokesman slapped him on the back as Robert Shaw, the south suburban political operator, greeted him. Shaw said he's known Shackelford for years but insisted he didn't ask him to speak.

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