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Overriding veto key to county's economic health

Monday, May 18, 2009
Crain's Chicago Business
by Crain's Editorial Staff

Cook County commissioners should override County Board President Todd Stroger's veto of a measure rolling back his recent sales tax hike.

Mustering the votes to do so will be hard. Overriding a veto requires the votes of three-quarters of the board's 17 members, an extraordinarily high threshold for a legislative body.

But overriding this veto is essential to Cook County's economic health and the integrity of its government.

The sales tax increase Mr. Stroger pushed through last year was unnecessary, far exceeding the amount needed to fill a budget gap that commissioners should have closed by cutting expenses. Now evidence is emerging that the higher sales tax is hurting retail sales in Cook County.

As Steven R. Strahler reported in Crain's and on, recent data suggest that shoppers are starting to cross the county line to escape the tax. In the months since the tax hike took effect, some Cook County suburbs adjoining the border have seen sharper retail sales declines than have nearby towns on the other side of the line.

In a recession, county government should tighten its belt rather than slap new burdens on struggling local businesses. But Mr. Stroger clearly has no intention of streamlining a bureaucracy he uses to provide jobs for friends, family and the occasional ex-con busboy. He refuses even to freeze hiring during the downturn, much less cut staff as other government agencies and countless businesses have done.

A vote to uphold the veto is a vote for an outmoded regime of inefficiency and out-of-control spending that Cook County can no longer afford. Overriding the veto would not only relieve retailers of the burden of the tax hike but also force county officials to confront the unsustainable expense structure created by the Stroger machine.

The outcome will depend on the votes of a small number of commissioners who have taken Mr. Stroger's side in the tax hike dispute. While the voting rules give them inordinate power, they should understand that the responsibility is all theirs, too.

©2009 by Crain Communications Inc.

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