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  Last year more people used the County's forest preserves than visited Yellowstone National Park.

Stroger supporters say tax hike vital.

Saturday, October 27, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Allies of Cook County Board President Todd Stroger pushed back at critics of his proposed tax increases Friday, insisting the county needs money to close its deficit and asking for alternative ideas to get more money.

At a downtown public hearing on Stroger's $3.2 billion budget, board members aligned with the administration questioned
and even criticized restaurateurs and business groups testifying against the proposed sales, gasoline and parking tax increases.

"It is crazy what I hear in this room sometimes," Commissioner Jerry Butler (D-Chicago) said to a restaurateur who testified that a 2 percentage point increase in the sales tax would harm the local convention industry. "Location, location, location. That's why Chicago is so great, because of where it is situated."

Butler said he had heard enough attacks on Stroger and the proposed taxes, and was committed to making his case that the county needs more money to operate its ailing health system.

"What I'm trying to do is to talk to the people out there so they at least hear another side of it," Butler said.

Other Stroger allies said the same restaurants that were complaining about sales taxes fail to give their employees health insurance, forcing workers to use the county's system. Board members also asked business leaders to give them options for taxes they could support if they opposed the three under consideration.

Murphy, the sponsor of the sales tax increase, predicted outside the boardroom it would be scaled back to 1 percent and coupled with cuts.

The Stroger allies also went on the offensive against board members who oppose raising taxes. Commissioner William Beavers (D-Chicago) blamed them for putting the county in a financial hole. Beavers' remark did not go unchallenged, however.

"Here's how you solved things: You sold assets, declared victory and went home," Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) said to Beavers, former chairman of the City Council's Budget Committee.

The public can comment on the budget at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Skokie courthouse and 6:30 p.m. Nov. 6 at Proviso East High School in Maywood.

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