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Meeting for sales-tax roll back called

Monday, November 09, 2009
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

With a days-old law in place that has weakened Cook County President Todd Stroger’s veto power, county commissioners called a special board meeting for next Monday to vote on rolling back the county’s controversial sales tax by a half-penny.

This time, Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, a Democrat, says the tax break will stick. That’s because on Saturday, Gov. Quinn signed a law making it easier for the commissioners to override the county board president’s veto.

Until Saturday, the 17-member board needed a four-fifths majority, or 14 votes, to override a veto. Now, the law requires only a three-fifths majority — 11 votes. Suffredin says he has 11 other commissioners signed on to a proposal to roll back half of the penny on the dollar sales tax hike, passed a year ago.

If everyone sticks to their guns, there not only will be enough to pass the rollback, but also enough to withstand another Stroger veto. Three times now, Stroger has wielded his veto stamp on a rollback, and commissioners have been unable to get the votes they needed to override it.

Stroger has argued that the loss of revenues could mean the shuttering of health clinics that serve the poor and uninsured. But Suffredin and others say that the county can stay in the black by belt-tightening without seeing health services suffer.

If the rollback measure passes, it would not take effect until July 2010; but the county would see a loss of $32 million in revenues. Commissioner Jerry “Iceman” Butler, whose district includes the Southeast Side, counts himself among five commissioners who haven’t signed on to the latest rollback.

“Never has a half penny meant so much to so many,” he said, noting that this may be a political ploy as the 2010 election looms.

He said he voted for the hike a year ago because he believed the county needed the money to pay for health care, which draws a large chunk of the county's $3 billion budget.

“I voted for it because I believed it was necessary, for me to go back would be ridiculous.”

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