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Your new Stroger Tax

Sunday, March 02, 2008
Chicago Tribune
Editorial

"At this point, I see no need for any increase in taxes. I am opposed to a sales tax because it is regressive and adversely affects the poorest members of the community."

-- Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, as posted at
http://www.suffredin.org

----------

For three days, the Cook County Board talked about the needs of county executives, or county departments, or county employees. Rarely did anyone mention the 5.3 million residents citizens whose taxes pay for this oversized and bumbling government.

Sure enough, the 2008 budget approved late Friday reflected Cook County's true priorities. Board President
Todd Stroger, with his broken promises of reform trailing behind him, won a 1 percentage point increase in the sales tax. That's half of what he had wanted, but still maddeningly unnecessary. The hike will take an additional $426 million per a year from taxpayers. Businesses? In Chicago they'll be stuck collecting the steepest big-city sales tax in the U.S.: 10.25 percent.

But don't worry, the bosses at the public employee unions are ecstatic. Stroger's budget includes more than 1,100 new jobs.

This travesty unfolded because Suffredin -- who had labor leaders literally hovering behind him during deliberations -- cut a deal that gave his decisive vote (and that $426 million) in new revenue to Stroger.

So much for the proud claim in Suffredin's advertising during his recent primary campaign for state's attorney: "As a reformer, I stood up to Todd Stroger's tax increases."

In return for flipping sides, Suffredin got a concession that sounds good but isn't worth his deal's huge tax bite: Stroger supposedly will relinquish control of the county's patronage-fat Bureau of Health Services to outside directors. Civic, health and labor groups will nominate 20 candidates; Stroger will select nine as directors. Translation: To have a majority -- and to keep full control of the health system's contracts and jobs -- Stroger will only need to find five patsies on the list of 20.

Suffredin's cave is a huge disappointment. His reversals leave him looking like a wholly owned subsidiary of two unions, the Service Employees International and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Reformer? He is the enabler of Todd Stroger's tax increases.

A crowd thick with county workers cheered after the board's vote to increase raise taxes left downsizing of county government harder to achieve. Why shouldn't they cheer?

The new health board sunsets in three years. The sales tax hike? That's forever.



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