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Mad about the tax grab?

Monday, March 03, 2008
Chicago Tribune

"There's not that many political hacks in Cook County."

-- Deborah Sims, urging her fellow
Cook County Board members to raise taxes.

When members of the Cook County Board boosted local sales taxes into double digits over the weekend, did they unwittingly invite challengers to battle them for cushy part-time jobs that pay $85,000 a year?

That would be justice. Friday's board vote to add a full percentage point to the sales tax proves there's much to reform in this brain-dead government. We only hope potential candidates weren't scared off during last week's debate by the county employee who publicly cast a curse -- we're not sure if it was Santeria or Voodoo -- on board members who opposed further gouging taxpayers.

That 9-8 tax vote leaves the County Board a target-rich environment. Sims and several others who voted with her are relying on voter amnesia to block public memory of their successful push for $426 million a year in new taxes. Imagine the joy of reminding residents in her district of another Sims argument: "This country was built on taxes."

Actually, Ms. Sims, it was built on rebellion against onerous taxation. Tea party, anyone?

Board President
Todd Stroger provided this quote to save: "Revenue is reform."

Talk of recruiting much better candidates (Rep.
Jesse Jackson Jr., are you listening?) isn't as premature as you'd think. In now-vulnerable offices of county government, all that matters is 2010, when all 17 board seats are up for election. These jobs are now higher-profile than most City Council seats, the pay is good, and there's no forlorn commute to Springfield.

Consider too: Challengers will be able to explain how higher county taxes drive shoppers to the Internet -- and employers to other counties in Illinois, Indiana or Wisconsin.

Challengers also can remind people that eight board members -- including all four women -- voted to raise their own office budgets rather than direct that $1.1 million to reduce the backlog of poor women waiting for mammograms at Stroger Hospital.

And the self-humiliation may continue. Some board members are murmuring about another revenue grab: doubling the county parking tax to $40 a month. Oh, did we mention that County Board members don't have to pay any parking tax? They get free indoor parking beneath the Daley Center. Talk about a juicy item for every challenger's campaign mailers.

Watching last week's tax debate, we were struck by the indignant, often furious opposition of Stroger's board allies to even mild cost cuts or calls for efficiency. Then it dawned on us: Cutting payrollers, contracts and other expenses would reduce the need for ... tax hikes in the hundreds of millions!

So there's much to fix: the insolvent health system, the redundant bureaucracies of county offices, the cronyism that drives hiring. With just one or two new board members, Cook County could be a model of something other than patronage and bloat.

Reform candidates, start your ambitions. And don't worry about the curse. We checked pulses after the sales tax vote. All eight opponents survived -- and plan to keep fighting.

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