Stroger's take: 'We are stuck'Key ally Beavers says race a factor in budget impasse
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
by Mickey Ciokajlo
Cook County Board President Todd Stroger acknowledged Tuesday that his budget and tax proposals for 2008 are "stuck" and accused commissioners of being "afraid" of raising taxes to provide services.
In a daylong budget session that devolved into name-calling and insult-hurling, a key Stroger ally injected race into the debate, saying that if Stroger were white, he would not have a problem getting his plans approved.
"This is a remake of the Harold Washington days with the 29-21," Commissioner William Beavers (D-Chicago) said of the infamous Council Wars in the 1980s when 29 white aldermen frequently clashed with 21 allies of Washington, the city's first black mayor. "It's basically dealing with who's going to control the county, white or black. That's all it is.
"If this was a white man in power right now, they wouldn't be fighting him like this," added Beavers, a former alderman who has never been shy to bring up race as a political factor.
Stroger declined to comment on Beavers' remarks, which came during a break in a Finance Committee meeting where commissioners voted on spending adjustments to Stroger's proposed $3.2 billion budget.
Nine hours later, commissioners had trimmed about $1.1 million in spending, barely narrowing the original projected deficit of $239 million.
Commissioner John Daley (D-Chicago), the finance panel's chairman, said board members must meet again Friday and be prepared to make further cuts, since it appears they will not support Stroger's proposed tax increases.
Stroger wants to raise taxes by $888 million by more than tripling the county sales tax and doubling the gasoline and parking taxes. But Stroger acknowledged Tuesday that he currently does not have the votes to win passage.
"We are stuck," Stroger told reporters. "They don't want to take the leap and make the vote for revenue, but they also don't want to decimate the system. There has to be a choice made and -- I would hope that it'll be very soon -- I think the right choice would be to vote for revenue."
Stroger said commissioners are "afraid" of raising taxes.
"Eventually they're going to have to get over this fear and they're going to have to do what's needed, and that is to bring in new revenue," Stroger said.
"Commissioners are afraid to ask the voters for more money," he said. "But government runs on money. Either you have services at a certain level or you don't."
Stroger said that if taxes are not raised, they would be forced to cut spending by about 7 percent throughout the county. Those reductions would come on top of spending cuts that were made in this year's budget.
Most department heads and county elected officials have told board members that their offices cannot afford to sustain more spending cuts.
Daley, who supports Stroger's budget, disagreed with Beavers that race is a factor in the opposition. "I don't buy that at all," he said.
Daley, a brother of Mayor Richard Daley's, said, "The mayor is beat up. That's part of being an executive.
"It's up to ... every elected official, executive, to sell his or her budget accordingly. The president has so far not been able to sell that budget and not been able to receive the support. He has tried."
Commissioner Tony Peraica (R-Riverside), who opposes Stroger's budget, said he was "appalled" by Beavers' remarks.
"This is not personal," Peraica said. "This is about doing the best that we can for the taxpayers of Cook County."
Peraica, who also frequently spars with fellow Republican Elizabeth Gorman of Orland Park, came under attack from her during the meeting. She accused Peraica of sponsoring a telephone-calling campaign in her district aimed at her.
Gorman, who appeared to be reading from a script, called Peraica "an abusive weasel" and "a loser."
Peraica said Gorman's attack was an affront to the entire board and suggested that she should find another forum to "spew personal vengeance."