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Stroger says no again to county tax rollback
POLITICS | But this time, commissioners confident they have override vote

Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger on Monday wielded his veto stamp a fourth time on legislation to roll back the unpopular sales tax hike passed a year ago.

Up to now, he's been able to fend off a rollback by vetoing the measure and shoring up enough votes to withstand an override, arguing a giveback would "decimate" three hospitals and clinics serving the uninsured and poor.

But with a change in state law weakening Stroger's veto authority, this time a rollback may stick. Stroger also faces a coalition of commissioners arguing that a half-penny-on-the-dollar of the sales tax can be shaved and the hospital system saved by cutting wasteful spending and patronage hiring.

"As the County Board president, I refuse to stand idle while opposition commissioners continue to decimate this [health care] system," Stroger said.

"My veto stands as the crucial first step in making sure we keep health care," Stroger said, flanked by about about 75 ministers and union officials whose members are employees in the health care system.

Stroger asked Cook County residents to call their commissioners, who approved the rollback 12-5 last week. He singled out Robert Steele, whose district includes Provident and Cook County hospitals, along with Earlean Collins and Edwin Reyes whose districts also include some of the 16 clinics.

Reached later, Reyes said: "I spoke to the folks at the health and hospital system, and they don't think there's going to be any shutdowns." Representing the Northwest Side, Reyes said he's standing by his decision to support the rollback and that will mean voting to override Stroger's veto.

"We're not budging, I don't see how we can," Reyes said.

The other two Democrats were not immediately available for comment, but last week both said they'd stand by their vote for the partial rollback, saying the sales tax was hurting their constituents -- both residents and businesses.

Stroger considered a rollback in the spring, but has returned to his position that the lost revenue stream could lead to Provident and Oak Forest hospitals shuttering.

Commissioners originally approved the sales tax hike.

But as the drumbeat of dissatisfaction grows louder and the Feb. 2 primary draws near, the tide has changed -- with a majority of commissioners now favoring a partial rollback

Gov. Pat Quinn earlier this month signed into law a measure that lowers the veto threshold for the 17-member commission from 14 votes to 11. A vote to override the veto is expected to happen during next Tuesday's regular board meeting.

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