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Cook County board fails to override sales tax veto

Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Daily Herald
by Ted Cox

"History" will have to wait.

From Commissioner Tony Peraica on the right to former commissioner and now U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley on the left, many had proclaimed Tuesday a "historic" day for Cook County, with the County Board set to impose its biggest tax cut ever.

Yet, the bid to override President Todd Stroger's veto of the sales-tax rollback failed when Commissioner Deborah Sims changed her vote at the last moment. The final tally was 13-4 in favor of overriding the veto, but 14 votes were needed for passage.

The Cook County sales tax remains at 1.75 percent. The ordinance would have rolled it back to 1.25 percent in 2010, in effect cutting in half the 1 percent increase imposed earlier this year and saving consumers an estimated $200 million a year.

Proponents of the rollback believed they had the votes to override after Illinois State Trooper Edwin Reyes was hurriedly appointed to fill the 8th District seat previously held by Roberto Maldonado on Monday. Reyes was added to the list of 14 ordinance co-sponsors at Tuesday's board meeting at the County Building in downtown Chicago.

"I believe it is a good day for the people of this county," said Commissioner John Daley, who supported the rollback, before the vote.

Yet, first hinting that she thought the issue needed more consideration, then removing her name from the ordinance entirely, Sims voted no, joining Chicago Commissioners William Beavers, Jerry Butler and Joseph Mario Moreno to sustain Stroger's veto of a July vote to cut back the sales tax.

"It's once again the city Democrats dictating to us what's best for the suburbs," said 17th District Commissioner Liz Gorman.

"It's really disappointing," added 15th District Commissioner Timothy Schneider. "I thought we were going to come and return some of the money to the taxpayers, restore some confidence in what we do here and the County Building, listen to our taxpayers and say enough is enough."

Yet they and the measure's lead backers, Democratic Commissioner Larry Suffredin and Republican Commissioner Tony Peraica, were blindsided by Sims' switching sides. Suffredin accused her of giving in to threats by Stroger, and Beavers threatened commissioners overtly during the debate, suggesting that some voting for the rollback would be putting themselves at risk for ethics violations.

"I don't heed anybody's threats," Sims countered. "So no threats were made to me."

"The vote I am going to make is for the people of my district," she said just before delivering her dramatic "no" vote, later explaining that she feared for some free clinics in her district, that could be closed if the county ran into a deficit.

"I'd rather be fiscally sound, and have the monies that we need to keep those clinics open, than wait and see what happens later," she said.

DePaul University released a study Monday showing that sales were slumping more in suburban Cook County than in Chicago, suggesting that some consumers were crossing county lines to avoid taxes. Some suburban commissioners, including Peraica, Gorman and Schneider, brought that issue up, but the argument did not prevail.

Schneider's campaign-finance reform was approved, as commissioners unanimously approved the previous day's Rules and Administration Committee report. The ordinance immediately cut maximum contributions in half for those doing business with the county, from $1,500 to $750, or $1,500 in the calendar year in which a candidacy is announced.

The meeting was at times contentious, with commissioners arguing about mutual respect and Beavers at one point dragging things out by requesting roll calls on procedural issues. The two factions clashed again late in the day when the board quashed a sweetheart lease Peraica had on Westchester office space over ethics concerns. "This is pure and simple political revenge," Peraica said.

"This is politics at its finest," Beavers replied. "Ray Charles could see what you did."

"There is no friendship on this board," Peraica added, making reference to Sims' reversal. "There is no respect, whatsoever."

"When you talk about getting respect, you have to give it," Sims replied. "If you don't like what I did today, too (darn) bad. I did what was best for my district."

Citing the seemingly certain tax cut, Quigley began the day saying it was a "historic" occasion at a media conference where he endorsed state Rep. John Fritchey in his run for the 12th District seat occupied by Commissioner Forrest Claypool, who is not seeking re-election next year. Yet, like everyone else, those three self-proclaimed reformers were all caught by surprise by how the day eventually turned out.



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