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County Board overrides Stroger, halves sales-tax hike

Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Crain's Chicago Business
by Greg Hinz

Capping a campaign that lasted half a year and required a special change in state law, the Cook County Board has taken final action to repeal half of the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax pushed through last year by board President Todd Stroger.

   The action came early Tuesday afternoon, when the bitterly split board voted 12-5 to override Mr. Stroger's veto of the half-penny cut. As a result, the county's portion of the sales tax will drop from 1.75% to 1.25%, with the combined rate for all governments to drop to 9.75% within most of Chicago.

    Mr. Stroger repeatedly blocked earlier steps by the board to repeal all or a portion of the tax hike, relying on a century-old state law that required an extraordinary fourth-fifths vote of the board for an override.

   But Mr. Stroger's foes recently convinced the Legislature to lower the override requirement to the 60% level more that's more common in government. That means they needed only 11 votes to override this time -- not the prior 14 votes -- and on Tuesday repeal advocates had one to spare.

  The repeal came over the intense opposition of Mr. Stroger, who has hinted at a legal challenge to the repeal and predicted it would cripple the county's ability to treat the poor at its network of hospitals and health clinics.

   But other commissioners were equally vehement in asserting that the budget can be balanced by reasonable spending cuts -- and in arguing that the sales tax hike has put county stores and shops at a major competitive disadvantage to those located in nearby areas outside of Cook County.

    Pending any legal challenge, the reduced tax will go into effect on July 1 -- the soonest that the Illinois Department of Revenue, which actually collects the tax, can update its computers.

     Though a majority of the board apparently wanted to repeal the entire penny-on-the-dollar increase, Mr. Stroger retained enough backing to sustain a veto of that move.

     Voting for the override were Commissioners Forrest Claypool, Earlean Collins, John Daley, Bridget Gainer, Elizabeth Gorman, Gregg Goslin, Tony Peraica, Edwin Reyes, Timothy Schneider, Peter Silvestri, Robert Steele and Lawrence Suffredin.

    Voting to sustain Mr. Stroger's veto were Commissioners William Beavers, Jerry Butler, Joseph Moreno, John Murphy and Deborah Sims.

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