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New life for a tax repeal

Sunday, November 01, 2009
Chicago Tribune
by Chicago Tribune editorial staff

Illinois lawmakers don't have many big successes to boast about in their reform efforts this year, but they did score one on Thursday. That's when the state Senate overwhelmingly passed a measure that would make it easier for Cook County Board members to roll back President Todd Stroger's beloved full-percentage-point sales tax increase.

This is wonderful news. There's new life to the long effort to repeal a tax that has become a symbol of government excess.

The bill would decrease from four-fifths to three-fifths the share of County Board members needed to override a board president's veto.

How important is that? Consider what happened the last time the board voted to repeal part of this unnecessary tax hike. Stroger vetoed that effort. In early September, the board's attempt to override his veto failed by one vote. Thirteen board members -- one shy of the 14 that would constitute four-fifths of the board's 17 members -- did vote to override Stroger's veto. Only four members stuck with Stroger. But that was enough to sustain his veto and block the repeal. A three-fifths threshold would mean that 11 board members could override Stroger's veto and peel back the tax. And that could translate into a big victory for Cook County taxpayers, if tax opponents on the County Board stick by their earlier votes. Cook County collects close to $400 million a year from consumers thanks to Stroger's tax hike, which took effect in mid-2008.

The bill is headed to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk. He has said he supports it. He should sign it immediately.

Stroger's supporters have argued that the legislation is unfair. That you can't change the board president's powers in midstream. That any change should be effective at the beginning of a new term, in December 2010, not now.

That's ridiculous.

The four-fifths threshold is absurd. It was instituted many years ago, when the board was smaller, to make sure the suburban members weren't shut out of power. Now the board is structured in a way that gives suburbanites proportional power. So it's well past time to drop the four-fifths threshold.

We know of no other politician who enjoys this kind of veto invincibility. President Barack Obama's veto can be overridden by two-thirds of the U.S. House and Senate. An override of Gov. Quinn takes a three-fifths majority. The same goes for every other county in Illinois, according to Sen. Dan Kotowski, D- Park Ridge, the Senate sponsor of the override bill.

Lawmakers deserve credit for getting this right. There's no need to delay here. Sign the bill, Governor. Then the Cook County Board should repeal that tax increase in its entirety -- over Stroger's veto, if that's what it takes.

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