Cook County to roll back sales-tax increase by 2013
Saturday, February 26, 2011
by Lisa Donovan
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle made
good Friday on a campaign promise to roll back what’s left of a
controversial penny-on-the-dollar sales-tax hike that had been pushed by
her predecessor, Todd Stroger.
With the backing of a bipartisan majority of Cook
County commissioners, Preckwinkle pushed through an ordinance that
cements a gradual rollback of the remaining half-penny of the sales-tax
increase by 2013.
The county’s 2008 penny-on-the-dollar hike pushed
Chicago’s overall sales tax to 10.25 percent, the highest of any large
city in the country. Last year’s half-penny rollback pushed it down to
9.75, tying with Los Angeles for the highest sales tax in the country.
Preckwinkle promised to roll back the increase during her campaign and again on her inauguration day in December.
On a 12-5 vote, the board set Jan. 1, 2012, to
erase a quarter-penny of the tax and Jan. 1, 2013, to do away with the
final quarter penny.
Together, the loss of the half-penny sales tax will cost the county about $180 million a year.
Republicans representing suburban districts —
particularly those that neighbor counties with a lower sales-tax rate —
lauded the rollback. “Congratulations!” said Commissioner Gregg Goslin,
who represents the northwest suburbs.
Timothy Schneider, another northwest suburban Republican, also applauded the move.
“The people I represent have been
disproportionately affected,” Schneider said, citing vacant strip malls
where businesses have closed after consumers took their business
elsewhere. “The periphery of the county has been disproportionately
Stroger championed the penny-on-the-dollar
sales-tax hike back in 2008, boosting Chicago’s overall sales tax to the
highest in the country.
The backlash over the increase helped Preckwinkle defeat Stroger’s re-election bid.
Joan Murphy, a Democrat representing the county’s
southwest suburbs, said she thought the vote for the rollback — which
comes at a time the county faces major money worries — was wrongly
swayed by newspaper opinion pages that have opposed the sales-tax
“I think it’s just sad that a couple of newspapers run this County Board,” Murphy said.
Democrat Deborah Sims, who also voted against the
rollback, told Preckwinkle she wished she had waited until she learned
more about the county’s financial troubles before promising the
rollback: “It’s unfair you made a commitment before you took office.”
Preckwinkle had said before taking office in
December that she knew the county faced a $487 million budget deficit
and said cost-cutting could plug the gap.
“We made a commitment on the campaign trail this
is what we were going to do, and I wanted to be sure all the people of
Cook County understood that we were going to meet our campaign promise,”
she said after Friday’s vote.
She lauded ally and Commissioner Larry Suffredin, a
Democrat representing Chicago’s far North Side and nearby suburbs, for
coming up with the plan for a gradual rollback.
“I appreciate their concerns, but I don’t share
them,” Preckwinkle said of the opposition. “I think that we’re going to
be able to restructure Cook County government and make efficiencies and
look at innovative ideas that will enable us to operate more effectively
and at less cost. So, over the long term, I think that’s what we’ve got
to do anyway. And this is an extra added incentive.”
Commissioner Robert Steele, a Demcorat, voted
against the rollback, saying he’s worried about the impact of having
less money on the county-run hospitals and clinics.
“We’re just doing this a bit early,” Steele said.
Revenues from the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax was
pegged at about $360 million. In the run-up to the February 2010
primary, commissioners were feeling the heat from constituents angry
over the sales tax hike and voted to slash it by a half penny.
The head of the Civic Federation, a tax policy
watchdog that criticized the sales-tax hike, praised Friday’s vote.
Lawrence Msall, the group’s president, said of the increase: “It was
established without any plan for how it was going to be used. The
majority of it didn’t go to fund the health system, as many had
promoted. It was used, in fact, ... to provide back pay and to provide
He said that while the loss of the half-penny might
be “onerous” for county government, he believes short- and long-term
reforms to cut costs will absorb the loss.
Commissioners voting for the repeal included: Jerry
Butler, Bridget Gainer, John Daley, John Fritchey, Jesus Garcia, Liz
Doody Gorman, Goslin, Edwin Reyes, Schneider, Peter N. Silvestri,
Suffredin and Jeff Tobolski.
Voting against the measure were: William Beavers, Earlean Collins, Murphy, Sims and Steele.