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Loving Stroger's tax

Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Chicago Tribune
by Chicago Tribune editorial staff

"The sales tax applies to things that most poor people don't buy." -- Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno, arguing that sales taxes really aren't regressive

"I would like to go home for once in my life and relax."

-- Commissioner Earlean Collins, accepting that her support of a county sales-tax increase may push voters to oust her from office

"We don't have any businesses in my district to leave."

-- Commissioner Deborah Sims, challenging the notion that high taxation is driving businesses -- and jobs -- out of Cook County

Maybe you couldn't be at the Cook County Building on Tuesday to join the celebration of public employees, union officials and other avid fans of unsustainable taxation.

Maybe you missed their applause when an attempt to kill Cook County's hated sales-tax increase fell short. Maybe, as Commissioner Tim Schneider suggested, you were among the far larger number of hardworking citizens who were at work, trying to make ends meet for their families. Maybe you were at your business, trying to retain the customers you still have. Maybe you were at home worrying about your household's finances and ... a local tax burden that just keeps rising because your politicians don't have the guts to cut spending.

To review the bidding: The County Board had voted 12-3 to kill the full-percentage-point tax increase, and board President Todd Stroger vetoed that action. Tuesday's question: Should the board override Stroger's veto? If you had better things to do, you missed bizarre behavior from commissioners loyal to Stroger and to unions that own county government:

--In support of Stroger's tax, Earlean Collins oddly invoked Ecclesiastes, who doesn't pay taxes in Cook County. And Robert Steele said a tax rollback would cripple county health care -- letting swine flu run rampant. Then Collins and Steele deprived their constituents of any voice whatsoever on whether to uphold or override Stroger's veto. Both voted present.

--A few heads swiveled as Joseph Mario Moreno, one of the 12 board members who had voted to repeal the tax increase, this time voted to sustain Stroger's veto.

--Although Collins, Steele and Moreno were strong contestants, the award for Most Confused Commissioner goes to Joan Patricia Murphy. Try to follow: Murphy was among the 12 who voted to repeal the full tax increase. On Tuesday, though, she spoke against that repeal -- but then voted for it. She added that any rollback should be done in increments. Minutes later, though, Murphy voted against a follow-up motion to phase out the tax -- in increments -- over two years. Yes, faced with the option of rolling back three-fourths of it in 2010 and the rest in 2011, she sided with Stroger in opposing ... any tax rollback that came to a vote.

We'll leave for another day the necessary discussion on which county districts desperately need better representation. At the close of this episode in Cook County governance, this was the final score:

Stroger's veto of the full-percentage-point rollback stands. By a 10-7 margin the board did vote for the two-year rollback. Next, Stroger emerged from his office to say that, yes, he'll veto that rollback too. So here we go again.

Strange day, punctuated by clarity from John Daley, whose impatience with Stroger's refusal to streamline this government grows with every board meeting. "Eighty-five percent of our budget is personnel -- and we still do not have a hiring freeze!" Daley fumed at one point. He talked about the harsh impacts of recessions, about taxpayers losing their jobs, about families having to slash expenses.

If you couldn't be there, Daley and some of the other commissioners were speaking for you. The six board members whose votes of no or present made the veto stick? They are William Beavers, Jerry "Iceman" Butler, Collins, Moreno, Deborah Sims and Steele. They were there, all right, loving Stroger's tax.

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