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Cook board may have the votes for partial sales tax rollback

Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Daily Herald
by Robert McCoppin

The Cook County Board apparently stands ready to vote to cut its much-hated sales tax increase in half today.

County board members said they believe they have the votes needed to overcome a veto and reduce the county sales tax rate to 1.25 percent from its current 1.75 percent.

The board twice voted earlier this year to cut back the 1-percentage-point tax hike it instituted July 1, 2008, but the moves were vetoed by board President Todd Stroger.

Now, Commissioner Larry Suffredin believes opponents have the four-fifths majority, or 14 votes, to override a possible veto.

Today "should be the day," said Suffredin, an Evanston Democrat.

"I think we're going to be able to put this together, but until I've got the votes, I'm not celebrating," he said.

The override vote would have to wait until the next meeting in September.

If passed, the tax reduction would take effect Dec. 1, at the start of the new 2010 fiscal year, and account for only half the original 1-point tax increase.

The total tax in Chicago, now 10.25 percent - the highest in the country - would drop to 9.75.

Opponents had talked about seeking a compromise with Stroger, but they now believe they have enough "Stroger Democrats" willing to switch sides. Stroger, who was not available for comment, had said he could accept such a cut, but commissioners would have to identify where to make corresponding spending cuts.

He said the tax increase was necessary to keep county services running, particularly in health care and public safety. Opponents counter that the county needs to cut its payroll.

Instead of identifying specific cuts, the commissioners plan to give elected county officials a revenue estimate for the $3 billion budget and require them to make the cuts to balance it.

The tax cut would force an estimated 10 percent spending cut without factoring in pensions and 17 percent including pensions, said Commissioner John Daley, the chairman of the county's finance committee. Daley said he supports the new rollback proposal and he believes the votes are there to support a veto override.

Suffredin first proposed the half-percentage-point rollback as a compromise in June after only nine commissioners voted in favor of overriding a Stroger veto of a measure that would have cut the sales tax to 1 percent in 2010 and to 0.75 percent in 2011.

All five Republican commissioners and four Democrats favored the previous rollbacks. To make the new compromise work, supporters will need to pick up support from at least five of the remaining eight Democrats. Daley and Suffredin would not say before the vote which commissioners support them.

Democrats voting with Stroger in June were Joan Murphy, William Beavers, Jerry Butler, Joseph Mario Moreno, Deborah Sims, and Robert Steele. Earlean Collins voted present and Roberto Maldonado was absent.

The proposed new cuts would come before commissioners and county officials face voters in the Feb. 2 primary next year.

Of the commissioners who voted for the tax hike previously, Commissioner Gregg Goslin, a Glenview Republican, said, "I think they've gotten a lot of flak for it."

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