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Now it's time to scale back that tax

Sunday, November 08, 2009
Daily Herald
by Daily Herald Editorial Board

Need any more evidence that the 1 percentage point sales tax increase pushed through last year by Cook County Board President Todd Stroger is hurting suburban businesses?

A new study released last week showed sales declined 14.4 percent in suburban Cook County for the second quarter of the year compared with the same quarter a year ago. That's a bigger decline than all the collar counties and a bigger decline than Chicago experienced. The three counties with the lowest sales tax - Kane, McHenry and Will- also had the lowest declines.

At a minimum of 9 percent, Cook County has the highest sales tax in the region, with many towns adding even more on top of that.

To further highlight the discrepancies, suburbs that are split between Cook and other counties or on the border with counties are seeing large declines: 34.3 percent in the Cook portion of Barrington Hills, 17.8 percent in Elk Grove Village, 17.3 percent in Schaumburg and 16.4 percent in Hoffman Estates.

Meanwhile, Stroger has proposed a budget that is 4.5 percent more than last year, a budget that has been criticized by a government watchdog group.

"We don't see any evidence of restraint. This budget is significantly larger than last year," said Civic Federation President Laurence Msall. He added that the sales tax increase is "having a dramatically negative impact on the economy."

Taxes are up and spending is up right along with it. And Stroger, who is seeking re-election, says he's spending taxpayer's money wisely. "The county's in great shape," he blithely said last week.

Yet he has ignored all the county residents who are fleeing to spend their money elsewhere.

The county board voted to repeal the tax increase but Stroger vetoed their efforts. They twice tried to override the veto but couldn't get the required 14 of 17 votes - a ridiculous fourth-fifths majority.

On Saturday, Gov. Pat Quinn wisely signed legislation that will give that override a chance to pass.

The bill, passed by the legislature, lowers the requirement to three-fifths or 11 of 17 votes to override a veto. This legislation did not repeal the tax itself. Signing it simply gives the county board a reasonable chance at overturning wrongheaded decisions by the county board president.

We praise the move by the General Assembly and the governor to correct this flaw.

Yet we also take note of the way Quinn, the candidate, skirted a significant problem. In his news release, Quinn failed to directly call out Stroger, a fellow Democrat with a large group of supporters.

Quinn's career was built on the theory that government should be more responsive to its citizens. This was an opportunity for the governor to make a bold statement about the hated tax that put Cook County among the highest in the nation. Instead, he simply said, "We must have fair rules for everyone."

Forgive us if we seem underwhelmed.

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