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Fight over sales tax cut goes down to wire
Both sides roll out big guns as today's county vote looms

Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

Up to now, the faces of the political war over Cook County's unpopular sales tax have been Board President Todd Stroger fighting to keep last year's penny-on-the-dollar hike in place and a majority of county commissioners pushing to roll it back.

Behind the scenes, the labor unions that have stood with Stroger and the business community, which has been howling from the start about the 2008 sales tax increase, have been campaigning hard -- particularly as this looms as a pivotal issue in the 2010 elections.

While commissioners today are expected to successfully override Stroger's veto of a half-penny-on-the-dollar rollback, the lobbying is expected to continue until they vote. Some commissioners have flip-flopped on the issue.

Last week, Stroger held a news conference at Cook County Hospital and was joined by union officials from such groups as the Service Employees International Union Local 73, which has 1,700 members in the hospital staff. Stroger maintains that lost revenue could shut several health-care facilities and two of the three hospitals serving the poor, resulting in job cuts.

"We are concerned about delivering quality care to our patients," said Dorothy Ahead, with the California Nurses Association, which represents her and Registered Nurses nationwide. Ahead has been at the county hospital for more than 20 years.

But Jerry Roper, president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, sees Stroger's doomsday predictions for the health-care system as a red herring.

"He took our sales tax up to the highest in the country," Roper says, concerned that the tax in a recession sends businesses into a "downward spiral."

"Instead of sitting down and getting control of his costs first, he went and pushed through a tax first. He went into what we call job preservation."

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