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Cook commissioners fail again to cut sales tax

Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Cook County commissioners today couldn't make their roll back of the county's controversial sales tax stick, failing by one vote to override Board President Todd Stroger's veto of their attempted tax cut.

That means the county sales tax rate remains at 1.75 percent, despite a majority of the county board wanting to reduce it to 1.25 percent.

Tax-cut backers needed 14 of 17 commissioners to override Stroger's veto. The vote was 13-4.

Commissioner Deborah Sims (D-Chicago), who had been part of the tenuous coalition supporting a roll back, today chose to support Stroger and sustain the veto. In July, Sims voted to roll back the sales tax increase, but today she switched positions and voted in favor of keeping the tax hike. (You can read about the board's July vote to cut the sales tax by clicking here.)

Sims said it’s too early in the 2010 budget process to determine whether the entire sales tax increase will be needed next year. “I hope that we will not rush to do anything here today,” she said.

“I want to make an intelligent vote here,” she added. “That’s what the people elected us to do, and we can’t do that if we don’t have all the information.”

Sims added, "This is a decision I made that I feel is in best for the people I represent."

Since the county sales-tax hike of a penny-on-the-dollar was approved in late February 2008, Stroger has remained the target of intense criticism but held fast that it’s needed to prevent decimation of the county’s vast public health system. He has vetoed three different attempts to repeal or cut the sales tax hike.

“It will make very little difference to most consumers,” Stroger said today, accusing roll back supporters of being dishonest with constituents. “It will devastate our public-health system.”

But Stroger's argument was somewhat undercut earlier today when officials with the county's independent Health and Hospitals System announced their preliminary 2010 budget asks for $74 million less in tax funding.

During the debate, Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) said lowering the tax will discourage shoppers in far-flung Cook suburbs from going to collar counties to do their shopping. He cited a Chicago-region sales-tax study released Monday.

Suffredin's argument was countered by Commissioner William Beavers (D-Chicago), who said a survey of his constituents indicated they support the sales-tax hike by an overwhelming margin.

“It’s not for food, it’s not for medicine,” he said of the sales tax. “People are willing to pay that one penny.”

Here's how the 17 commissioners voted today:

Voted yes to roll back the sales tax increase (13): Bridget Gainer (D-Chicago), Lawrence Suffredin (D-Evanston), Elizabeth Gorman (R-Orland Park), Timothy Schneider (R-Streamwood), Gregg Goslin (R-Glenview), Edwin Reyes (D-Chicago), John Daley (D-Chicago), Peter Silvestri (R-Elmwood Park), Tony Peraica (R-Riverside), Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood), Robert Steele (D-Chicago) and Earlean Collins (D-Chicago), Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago).
 
Voted no to roll back the sales tax (4): William Beavers (D-Chicago), Jerry Butler (D-Chicago), Joseph Mario Moreno (D-Chicago), Deborah Sims (D-Chicago).



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