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Stroger may not have budget votes

Thursday, January 06, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times

For just the second time in his 10-year tenure, Cook County Board President John Stroger may not have the votes to pass his budget.

Hotel and restaurant leaders who packed his Wednesday budget address, upset about plans to add 2 percent in taxes to their businesses, appear to have a majority of commissioners on their side.

Stroger wants to add the new taxes to hotel bills and restaurant tabs across the county to pay for a $3.04 billion budget to run county government, hospitals, courts and the jail in 2005. He would also raise the permit fee for any coin-operated amusement device -- including casino machines -- to $200.

While such taxes would generate $129 million in revenues over 12 months, most commissioners say they aren't convinced there aren't other ways to close the county's $73 million budget deficit.

"Adding 2 percent to the food and beverage tax will hurt the less fortunate people, and I'm not going to support that," said Commissioner Roberto Maldonado, who voted for Stroger's 2004 budget.

Lukewarm support

This year, Stroger says he has already cut $179 million from the budget and has pledged he won't raise property taxes. But most commissioners gave his tax plan lukewarm acceptance at best.

"We reject the premise he can't look for greater efficiencies in this budget before turning to taxpayers," said Laurence Msall of the Civic Federation, one of the taxpayer watchdog groups Stroger singled out for harsh criticism.

Stroger heaped praise on Assessor James Houlihan, Recorder Gene Moore and Treasurer Maria Pappas for heeding his original budget request that all elected officials stick to their 2004 spending in order to balance the budget.

But Stroger criticized Sheriff Michael Sheahan and Clerk David Orr for increasing their budgets. Orr said he's working with Stroger's staff to seek more reductions, while Sheahan said he's only asking for more officers to meet a federal staffing requirement at the county jail.

Stroger will take his budget to the public with the first of four public hearings at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Cook County Courthouse in Skokie.

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