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  Cook County Hospital fills more outpatient prescriptions every day than are filled at 26 Walgreen's drug store combined.

Cook County Board votes to roll back sales tax
But Stroger is threatening another veto

Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

For months the Cook County Board has wrangled over what to do with the unpopular penny-on-the dollar sales tax hike it pushed through more than a year ago.

But with an election year looming, the board Tuesday passed a measure that not only halves the 1 percentage point increase but appears to be veto-proof.

The rollback means Chicago's overall sales tax of 10.25 percent -- spotlighted as the highest of any big city in the country -- would retreat to 9.75 percent.

Larry Suffredin, a Democrat among the 12 county commissioners who voted to approve the tax reduction, said: "We will have a boomerang effect of people coming back and shopping."

But lowering the county's portion of the sales tax, from 1.75 percent to 1.25 percent, effective Jan. 1, also means the county won't see a projected $130 to $140 million in anticipated revenues next year, according to the county's budget office.

"Don't think that tomorrow and the next day and the next day that life will all of a sudden get great, that we'll be looking through rose-tinted glasses and we'll all be happy and 'Oh things got better by themselves,' " said County Board President Todd Stroger, noting that employee contract negotiations are looming and the county will have to cover $104 million in pension payments.

County officials say the rollback could mean 10 percent across-the-board cuts. Since 80 percent or more of the budget pays personnel, Stroger said he anticipates layoffs.

"Trying to appease the crowd may sound good today, but tomorrow, you'll pay."

Stroger is vowing -- as he has with other proposals to roll back the tax hike -- to veto the measure in the next five days. But this time a coalition of 14 commissioners -- the precise number needed for a four-fifths majority to override a veto -- sponsored the rollback legislation.

And while 12 commissioners voted for the ordinance on Tuesday, absent commissioners Tony Peraica and Forrest Claypool are expected to vote to override at the board's next meeting in September.

Jerry Butler, one of two commissioners who voted against the measure, called slashing the tax a "feel good" move that could end up hurting the county's hospital system that provides care to the poor.

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