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Cook Co. board again nixes full sales-tax rollback

Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Daily Herald
by Ted Cox

The Cook County Board Tuesday again rejected an attempt to fully roll back the 1 percentage point hike in the sales tax imposed in 2008.

In what sponsoring Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno called likely "the final time this year we tackle this subject," the board voted 10-7 against a gradual elimination of the increase. The Chicago Democrat proved to be the only one to change his vote from previous attempts to fully roll it back. The five suburban Republican commissioners - Riverside's Tony Peraica, Bartlett's Timothy Schneider, Glenview's Gregg Goslin, Orland Park's Liz Gorman and Elmwood Park's Peter Silvestri - were again joined by Chicago Democrat Forrest Claypool in supporting the cut.

The board voted last year to halve that sales-tax increase effective July 1, when the county's share of the sales tax will go from 1.75 percent to 1.25 percent. But a majority of the board would not go any further at this point, despite widespread public dissatisfaction with the tax.

In fact, after being a loyal supporter of board President Todd Stroger on the tax increase, Moreno was the only commissioner running for re-election to lose along with Stroger in the February primary. In jumping on board as a co-sponsor, Peraica said, Moreno "got religion" after the defeat, and the lame-duck Moreno tended to agree.

"My own district and the rest of the county voters spoke strongly on Feb. 2 about this sales tax, and I for one have heard them loud and clear," Moreno said. "I can no longer be elected, so this is no political stunt as I have nothing to gain. But I feel obligated as we all should see that the wishes of the voters be honored."

He called a full rollback to the previous 0.75 percent sales tax "a business initiative, not a political one."

Yet Chicago Democratic Commissioner Deborah Sims called it "irresponsible," and her Crestwood Democratic colleague Joan Patricia Murphy added, "We are one of the few solvent county governments across the country, and it is because of this one-penny sales tax."

Chicago Democratic Commissioner John Daley, chairman of the finance committee, said they should defer a full rollback until the next board president is elected in the fall, adding, "I believe it would have an impact on health and public safety."

Evanston Democratic Commissioner Larry Suffredin said he had already had discussions with Chicago Hyde Park Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, the Democratic presidential nominee, about how best to reduce the sale tax if she's elected. "We will have a plan," he added, "that will allow us to repeal this in due course."

The board also voted 11-6 to reject a motion to make permanent the independent board overseeing the Health & Hospitals System and request the General Assembly to grant it the power to levy its own taxes.

"This is the cleanest and the best way to ... make that board truly independent, including economically independent," said Chicago Democratic Commissioner Earlean Collins, the main sponsor. She said it would remove the "shackles of county government, real and imagined."

"This board has not been accountable to the taxpayers," Chicago Democratic Commissioner Jerry Butler said of his colleagues in supporting the proposal. "We need a board that will be accountable not only to the taxpayers, but to the patients." Daley and Suffredin also supported it.

Yet, while most commissioners advocated making the independent hospital board permanent, some took issue with cutting its purse strings. "The last thing we need in the state of Illinois is more taxing bodies," Peraica said.

Others insisted it was putting "the cart before the horse" to take action before other logistical matters were worked out. Goslin said it wasn't even clear exactly how much tax money the health and hospitals system would need to raise on its own, and Chicago Democratic Commissioner Bridget Gainer pointed out they haven't even established a set term limit and replacement process for members of the board.

In the end, the board voted to retain financial control and put off making the hospital board permanent until a later date.


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