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Preckwinkle trims 2 tax hikes, urged to drop a third

Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Crain's Chicago Business
by Greg Hinz

Just 10 days after she introduced it, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is toning down one of the tax hikes she's seeking to balance her proposed fiscal 2013 budget. And Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey is pushing a measure to deep-six one of her other proposed new levies.

In one action, Ms. Preckwinkle announced that she wants to raise to $3,500 from $2,500 the exemption on her new "buy local tax" — a 1.25 percent levy that would apply to nontitled items such as office equipment, computers and supplies purchased in bulk.

"Compromise and consensus have been my top priorities throughout the budget process," said Ms. Preckwinkle. "The economic policies in this year's budget will help make Cook County a more vibrant economic hub in the region for years to come . . . by leveling the playing field for businesses trying to grow and thrive in Cook County."

Ms. Preckwinkle said the revised levy still would bring in about $14 million, money needed in part to replace funds lost by the repeal of the last 0.25 percent sales tax pushed through by her predecessor, Todd Stroger.

Meanwhile, Mr. Fritchey wants to kill the new tax on firearms and ammunition that Ms. Preckwinkle proposed.

Mr. Fritchey would replace the lost revenue by delaying for six months the filling of what he described as "28 well-paying but presently vacant administrative positions" in the president's proposed budget.

Ms. Preckwinkle has described the proposed tax as an anti-crime and anti-violence measure. But Mr. Fritchey said it would be better instead to create a $1 million prevention program to distribute grants to organizations that work with youth to provide alternatives to violence.

He also wants to create a gun court, something Ms. Preckwinkle previously proposed, to expedite prosecution of those charged with gun crimes. And Mr. Fritchey is calling on the Legislature to create a registry of lost and stolen guns to better keep track of firearms.

Ms. Preckwinkle has not publicly responded to the proposal, but I hear the sides are working on a compromise.

Update, noon — Ms. Preckwinkle has agreed also to delay and reduce her new tax on gambling machines.

At a press conference a little while ago, she said her proposal now will call for a levy of $1,000 per year for "each electronic device," but only $200 for video gaming terminals, which tend not to be located in big casinos but in smaller neighborhood establishments.

Ms. Preckwinkle also is delaying the effective date of the new levy until June 1 in hopes of giving the Legislature a little extra time to approve a Chicago casino first.

Ms. Preckwinkle said the revised levies represent "a small price to pay to help with the impact of gambling" on crime, health and addiction, and would reduce the impact on smaller mom-and-pop establishments.

The revised levy will bring in an estimated $1.2 million a year.

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