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Beavers' race rhetoric is wrong on facts and as political tactic

Friday, November 30, 2007
Daily Southtown

THE ISSUE: County Commissioner William Beavers claims Todd Stroger's plan to boost sales and other taxes by $890 million would pass if Stroger "was a white man."
we say: Beavers is wrong. The proposed tax increases must be rejected because they are excessive and regressive, not because of Stroger's race.
William Beavers, a Cook County commissioner from the Southeast Side, claimed this week that Cook County President Todd Stroger's plan to raise taxes by almost a billion dollars is floundering because Stroger is black.
Beavers is wrong. Stroger's plan would be a disaster for the county and its taxpayers, and that has nothing to do with his race. The $890 million tax plan is unjustified, and its reliance primarily on sales taxes would hit the county's low-income taxpayers harder than anyone. That's what makes it bad policy - and it would be bad policy no matter who was proposing it.
Beavers likes to portray himself as the tough-as-nails political strongman who gives Stroger all his best advice. But his off-the-wall accusation of racism ignores the facts of the situation in favor of a transparent and devious attempt to portray anyone who opposes Stroger's outrageous plan as racist.
Beavers apparently needs to be reminded Stroger sprung his tax plan on the taxpayers without any effort to justify it. He proposed raising the sales tax in Cook County to 11 percent - making it the largest combined sales tax rate in the country - before he had a budget plan. Later, it turned out Stroger was anticipating a $239 million deficit but proposing to collect an increase more than three times that amount. He admitted the increase would raise more money than he needed, but Stroger in effect told the public, "Give me 300 percent more than I need, and if I can't figure out a way to spend it, I'll give some back later. Trust me."
In addition, he was proposing to double the taxes on gasoline and parking lot fees at the same time Mayor Richard Daley was proposing the biggest property tax increase in history, the now-approved tax on bottled water and a water rate increase that will hit suburban water customers harder than city residents.
This came on the heels of revelations that last year, Stroger cut from the payroll about 1,900 low-paying jobs, while adding 1,200 jobs paying more than $60,000 a year. And all of this followed a steady drip of stories about Stroger hiring relatives, friends and relatives of friends to high-paying county jobs.
All of this was astoundingly arrogant, coming from a politician who took office thanks to his father's long career and loyal service to the Democratic machine, not because he had earned consideration for the county board president's job. Many voters expected the Stroger administration to be rife with patronage and political favoritism, and Stroger more often than not has been happy to prove them right. That Stroger's tax hikes should be greeted by skepticism isn't racism; it's common sense.
Sadly, Beavers tossed out this political red herring only a couple days after the 20th anniversary of the death of Harold Washington, whose tenure as Chicago mayor was marred by real racist obstructionism and concerted efforts by white politicians to play on the fears and prejudices of white voters. Stroger's failures are his own making. Beavers' suggestion that Stroger is the victim of the same sort of racist opportunism as Washington is an insult to the late mayor's memory.
Stroger needs to show the voters evidence that he's cutting patronage and political abuses and that he's making a good-faith effort to avoid raising taxes. He could make a major step in that direction by embracing a proposal to put county health services in the hands of a nonpolitical oversight committee made up primarily of medical professionals, a proposal this page has endorsed. He needs to tell county commissioners like Beavers he won't allow increases in their office budgets - a blatant effort to add patronage jobs. He needs to cut loose the relatives and friends who have been added to the payroll. And he needs to slash the excessive spending plan. That plan, not racism, is the reason he faces opposition.

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