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Stroger should take cue from snub by other county officials

Sunday, November 25, 2007
Southtown Star

THE ISSUE: Todd Stroger tried to get other elected county officials to stand with him and endorse his proposal to more than double the county sales tax. No one was willing to endorse his plan.
we say: Stroger should take a cue from the snub. Even the few who appeared with him wouldn't endorse his excessive, regressive sales tax increase.
Todd Stroger had to fly solo Monday when he asked his fellow Cook County officials to join with him in support of a sales tax increase of more than 250 percent.
No one was willing to endorse the sales tax hike. Three other countywide officials showed up, along with two members of the county board, but not a single one explicitly endorsed the sales tax.
It's not hard to figure out why. Stroger's proposal would raise the county sales tax from three-fourths of a cent to 23/4 cents. It would raise an estimated $888 million by 2009, and it would raise the sales tax within Chicago to more than 11 percent; that would be the highest sales tax rate in the United States.
Perhaps most astounding of all, Stroger himself admits his new tax would raise far more money than the county needs. The anticipated shortfall in 2008 is $239 million. But rather than cut his $3.2 billion spending plan, Stroger wants his constituents to give him more than he needs today, so he can continue spending more next year and the year after without having to come back and ask for more in 2008 and 2009.
"I believe it's smarter to take care of the problem now," Stroger told the Tribune. Smarter? Maybe from the perspective of a politician who hopes to settle in for a long stay, it's better to raise taxes early in your term so you maybe can avoid raising them late. Some voters will forget, after all.
On Monday at least, no member of the county board was ready to endorse the Stroger plan, which could mean all of them understand it's wrong, it's excessive and it's particularly unfair to the poor people of the county - the ones Stroger wants to pretend he's looking out for. Sales taxes have their biggest impact on people with the lowest incomes - people who have to spend every penny they earn to pay the bills. For them, virtually every penny they earn is subject to the sales tax. People who can afford to save some of their earnings escape sales taxes on the amount they don't spend. So the less you earn, the harder you're hit by the sales tax.
But to be realistic, the lack of endorsements for this tax hike might be more for appearances than an actual policy statement. A majority of the county board could show up on Nov. 30 for the budget vote and quietly roll over for the county board president. There's safety in numbers, after all. Casting one of nine or 10 or 11 votes for a tax hike might attract less of the spotlight than standing up a news conference and saying, "I agree with Todd Stroger. We should raise the sales tax by 266 percent, and we should collect almost three times as much as we need to bridge the deficit."
And the fact is, three county officials said they agreed with Stroger that the county needs more revenue so they don't have to cut their offices anymore. They were Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, State's Attorney Richard Devine and Recorder Gene Moore. Sheriff Tom Dart sent a representative to say the same thing. It won't be a surprise at all if they eventually endorse Stroger's higher sales tax, hoping that some voters will give them points for holding out.
We hope that by refusing to stand shoulder to shoulder with Stroger on Monday, county officials were sending a message to the county board president that they will not stand with him next week when the budget vote is scheduled.
County officials need to heed the message of the voters: They want county government to cut back on patronage and waste, and they are sick and tired of paying for a political jobs and contracts service for the friends, relatives and campaign workers of county politicians.

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