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Deal near on partial rollback of Cook sales tax hike

Monday, June 22, 2009
Crain's Chicago Business
by Greg Hinz

    After months of extremely contentious debate, it looks like the Cook County Board finally is closing in on a deal to partially repeal the big sales tax hike it enacted last year.

   Under a proposed compromise that has been the subject of a series of closed meetings in recent days, the board would repeal half of the one-cent-on-the-dollar hike that was adopted at the request of County Board President Todd Stroger.

   The move would reduce the county's sales tax levy from 1.75% today to 1.25%, effective Jan. 1.

   Aides to Mr. Stroger failed to return phone calls seeking comment. But the president, who twice has vetoed bills to repeal the entire one-percentage-point increase but has said he could live with a one-quarter-cent reduction, is said to be willing to back the half-cent cut.

  "My understanding is that the president would sign it," said Commissioner John Daley, who heads the board's Finance Committee. He said he is inclined to support the measure.

   Another commissioner who asked not to be named said that while Mr. Stroger's staff has signaled his assent, the president has not yet said that himself.

   One potential roadblock is that Mr. Stroger is seeking board buy-in for any budget cuts he might have to impose as a result of the sales tax cut.

  "The commissioners will have to identify where the cuts will come from," said Commissioner Larry Suffredin.

    Mr. Suffredin backs the proposed deal, terming it "the best we could do."

     "Significant cuts are going to have to be made," confirmed GOP Commissioner Liz Gorman, who said she expects the deal to be approved.

     While some Stroger critics may continue to push for a full repeal, and further meetings are expected, all sides have wearied from the intense infighting over the tax in recent months, according to Mr. Daley.

   "We can't continue this game of passing things that get vetoed," Mr. Daley said. "At this stage, I'd be willing to support anything that would reduce the sales tax that (Mr. Stroger) would."

    The deal now being discussed would be up for a vote at the board's July 2 meeting.

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