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Cook board members push casinos, not taxes
Say Stroger's hikes not necessary if only gov would move on gaming

Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Daily Southtown
by Kristen McQueary

Two Southland Cook County commissioners say new taxes on restaurants and hotels proposed by President John Stroger would not be necessary if the state would approve casino licenses for the south suburbs and Chicago.

Joan Patricia Murphy (D-Crestwood) and Deborah Sims (D-Posen) said Monday they are pleading with Gov. Rod Blagojevich and other state leaders to work out a compromise gaming bill that would solve the county's budget woes before next month when a county budget must be enacted.

"We are calling on the governor, the Senate president and the speaker of the House to stop economic discrimination against south Cook County and its residents," Sims said. "We would be able to eliminate the (proposed) restaurant tax, and for the city, they might be able to eliminate some taxes they've looked at as well."

Millions of dollars in casino revenue are flowing into Indiana when they could be captured in Country Club Hills, the consensus location so far for a south suburban casino, Sims said.

Stroger introduced a budget blueprint last week that calls for a new 2 percent tax on hotels and restaurant bills in Cook County to help close a $73 million gap in the county's 2005 budget.

While the fiscal year is already under way, the 17-member county board will debate Stroger's proposal for several more weeks before taking final action.

Sims said she has reservations about the restaurant tax and hopes a casino plan from Springfield will bail out the county in time for a late February drop-dead date.

"We wouldn't even be looking at a restaurant tax if they would move on a casino — but I'm not going to rule (new taxes) out," Sims said.

Murphy said she is convinced more cuts can be made to the budget of constitutional officers' budgets. The county's constitutional officers include the sheriff, assessor, county clerk, treasurer, circuit court clerk and recorder of deeds. Still, the county needs a new source of revenue, and a riverboat would give the south suburbs a greater tax base, she said.

"We have the poorest community in the county in Ford Heights, and the taxes there are higher than they are in Wilmette," Murphy said.

State lawmakers have been unable to reach a consensus on a gaming bill. Blagojevich has sent mixed messages about his willingness to sign such legislation, leaving lawmakers uncertain as to whether it's worth focusing on a gaming bill.

If lawmakers were to approve a bill in time for the county's budget process, they would have to act fast. They meet for the first time Wednesday — the kickoff of the spring session — with new members who won their seats in November.



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