Armed with a new, lower
requirement to override a veto, Cook County Board members will try
again this week to roll back the 1 percentage-point increase in the
sales tax imposed last year.
But there are plenty of potential pitfalls, both political and logistical, in the process.
"It's looking very positive right now. In the end, I
think we'll have a win-win situation for the taxpayers of Cook County,"
said Bartlett Republican Commissioner Timothy Schneider. "It's going to
help the retailers of our county, and it's also going to force Cook
County to make necessary cuts and streamline county government and
The commissioners have called a special meeting for
Tuesday, with the sales-tax rollback as the only item on the agenda.
"The question is," said Glenview Republican Commissioner Gregg Goslin,
"is it going to be 1 percent or a half percent?"
Evanston Democratic Commissioner Larry Suffredin said
he does not believe there are 11 votes for the full 1 percentage point,
citing the new threshold to override a presidential veto.
"And the 1 percent would have some crippling effects," he said. "The half percent takes out a lot of fluff in the budget."
Ideally, said Orland Park Republican Commissioner Liz
Gorman, they will pass either a full 1 percent cut, returning the
county's portion of the local sales tax to the previous 0.75 percent,
or split the difference by cutting it a half percentage point to 1.25
percent, and President Todd Stroger will veto it right away, allowing
the board to attempt an override at the regularly scheduled meeting
Yet Stroger could sit on the measure for a week before
vetoing it, potentially pushing it into December. In the meantime, it
threatens to throw a wrench into the 2010 budget process, with Stroger
and Finance Committee Chairman John Daley having set a loose deadline
of Thursday for passage. The budget Stroger submitted does not account
for a cut in the sales tax, and he has argued the full 1.75 percent is
needed to keep hospitals and clinics open.
Suffredin was optimistic.
"I think he'll do it right away, because he knows we'll
take the money right out of the budget," he said. "I expect we'll have
a budget Thursday. I think with a full day Thursday we could finish."
His Republican colleagues weren't so sure. They
expected Stroger to wait until the end of the week or early next week
to formally veto it, in effect putting the 2010 budget in limbo. At
that point, Goslin expected they'd call another special meeting for the
Gorman said the board would probably wait until
December's regularly scheduled meeting. Regardless, the action figures
to affect the budget process.
"It would seem to me this would push back finalizing
the budget," Schneider said. "An awful lot is going to have to get done
in the next week in order for us to pass this budget. ... I don't know
that's going to be possible."
He added that he'd seen the board much closer to
completing things before Dec. 1 and still wind up dragging things out
to the final deadline at end of February.
Then there is the possibility of Stroger fighting the
constitutionality of the lowered veto threshold in court. A Stroger
spokesman said the president has not talked about what he might do if
the board cuts the sales tax.
If it clears all hurdles, the tax cut will take effect
next July, affecting the last two months of the 2010 budget and
requiring $32 million in cuts before a more substantial $200 million in
An attempt to cut the sales tax 0.5 percentage points
and override Stroger's veto this summer failed at the last moment when
Chicago Democratic Commissioner Deborah Sims switched sides, leaving
the tax-cut proponents with 13 votes when 14 were needed on the
17-member board to meet the required four-fifths majority. The new law,
signed this month by Gov. Quinn, lowers that to a more conventional
three-fifths, or 11 votes.
There are 12 sponsors on the tax-rollback ordinance,
seemingly making it veto-proof. Then again, there were 14 this summer
before Sims switched sides. Chicago Democratic Commissioner Robert
Steele is one of those co-sponsors, but Stroger reportedly just named
Steele's brother Byron to a high-paying county political post.
Suffredin said he was not worried about Steele's continued support, adding, "It's harder to peel away two (votes)."
"At this point, I think it will hold," Goslin said, "but anything can happen."