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Array of tax hikes on table
Stroger exempts just property levy

Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Cook County Board President John Stroger will propose tax increases next week when he belatedly unveils his 2005 budget, although the property tax will be unaffected, said commissioners who were briefed Tuesday.

Stroger's financial team told commissioners that the county faces a $73 million deficit next year and tax increases will be necessary to close the gap.

Chief Financial Officer Tom Glaser and Budget Director Donna Dunnings held individual briefings Tuesday with Commissioners Tony Peraica (R-Riverside), Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) and Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston).

Commissioners were told that Stroger has not made a final decision on which taxes to raise, but he is considering several, including the sales, hotel, and food and beverage taxes.

"They say they haven't picked their poison," Quigley said of Stroger's financial team.

Stroger put those and other taxes on the table last month when he outlined the county's difficult financial position, which is similar to that of other local governments.

Two weeks ago Chicago approved a 2005 budget loaded with tax increases, including a 0.25 percentage-point increase in the sales tax, bringing the total to 9 percent.

One of the tax increases Stroger is considering is an identical 0.25 percentage-point increase on top of the city's. This would raise $90 million annually but only $15 million in 2005 because of the delay in implementation, Quigley said he was told.

"I think what you're going to see is this thing spread out over all of these taxes," he said.

Stroger, who typically unveils his budgets in late October, delayed its release while he asked department heads and elected county officials to pare their spending.

A year ago commissioners turned back two of Stroger's tax proposals, but the president got an 82-cent increase in the cigarette tax approved by one vote.

Peraica said the county could do more to cut spending.

To raise taxes on the heels of Chicago's increase, the Chicago Park District and other agencies would "add new insult to injury, whether it's $75 million or $7 million," Peraica said.

Suffredin agreed that the gap can be bridged.

"That should be an easy enough thing to do without raising taxes," Suffredin said.

Suffredin, Peraica, Quigley and Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago), who led the effort to turn back Stroger's tax proposals last year, have been pushing measures to cut spending to avoid tax increases.

Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a budget watchdog, said the county's revenues are expected to increase enough next year to provide sufficient funding to balance the budget if officials are willing to cut some spending.

The budget is also expected to include 283 new positions at Cook County Jail. Last week Stroger irked a federal judge when he proposed hiring 200 jail guards after lawyers involved in a consent decree said Stroger had previously offered 283.

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