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Preckwinkle wants tax hike on alcohol, boats, cars and parking

Monday, October 24, 2011
Chicago Tribune
by Erika Slife

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle wants to raise taxes on alcohol, tobacco products, new cars and boats, and to hike fees at county parking garages, according to the budget blueprint she released today.

The sales tax will drop by a quarter-percentage-point on Jan. 1, but anyone buying titled property will see their tax go up by that same amount, a move that is projected to bring in $14 million.

Wholesale alcohol taxes would go up by 20 percent to 50 percent bring the county an estimated $10.9 million, and parking garage increases would earn a projected $6 million.

And residents living in unincorporated Cook County -- estimated to be nearly 100,000 people -- could see a new tax applied to them to help pay for the county services they receive, such as public safety. The tax is projected to earn the county $5.5 million, if approved by county commissioners.

Preckwinkle is set to formally unveil her $3.2 billion plan to the county's board of commissioners on Tuesday. The county's budget year ends Nov. 30.

On Friday and Monday, Preckwinkle and her budget team met with newspaper editorial boards and groups of commissioners to preview the executive recommendation as she tries to close a $315 million shortfall next year.

The budget includes $252 million from taxpayers for the county's independent health and hospital system. Preckwinkle also wants to eliminate 1,600 jobs, including 543 vacant positions.

Preckwinkle had offered to save another 500 jobs if unions had agreed to eight unpaid days off of work next year -- including six unpaid holidays -- but the unions have so far rejected the deal.

Among the layoffs are 282 from Preckwinkle's administration, including 180 custodial positions due to "managed competition." Preckwinkle said Thursday that another large number of layoffs will come from the county's health system.

Preckwinkle wants to close "tobacco tax loopholes" by taxing all tobacco products, such as rolling papers, to bring in estimated $12 million. She also is asking to borrow $25 million, to be backed by the county's motor fuel tax, to pay for improvements to suburban roads, highways and bridges.

Preckwinkle wants to reduce the county's Juvenile Temporary Detention Center by half in the next two years, and has added $800,000 to the juvenile probation budget to contract with alternative secure group homes. The department's overall budget would increase from $38 million in 2011 to $41 million next year, according to the recommendation.

Preckwinkle hopes to have the county's budget passed by the start of the next budget year on Dec. 1. In the past, the county commission has passed a budget in February, which is the state-imposed deadline, a move Preckwinkle has called "irresponsible."

At the end of February, this year the County Board spent 19 hours haggling over this year's $3.05 billion budget. It was Preckwinkle's first spending blueprint after taking office in December, and she won unanimous approval from commissioners.

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