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County might drop lease tax

Thursday, January 08, 2004
Pioneer Press

Members of the Cook County Board are continuing behind the scenes negotiations in an effort to reach agreement on a 2004 budget amid reports that Board President John Stroger has given up on a proposed 4 percent lease tax on computers, automobiles and other equipment.

Stroger had proposed the lease tax along with a one-quarter of 1 cent increase in the County sales tax to cover a budget shortfall of $ 58 million.

Commissioner Gregg Goslin, R-14th, of Glenview said that, after a three-hour meeting he had this week with Stroger and Commissioner Earlean Collins, D-1st, of Chicago, the lease tax had been withdrawn.

Goslin, who opposes any tax increases this year, said he believed Stroger and Collins have convinced a majority of the board members to support a major increase of 85 cents a pack on cigarettes.

Goslin praised Stroger for cutting 1,400 jobs from the county payroll during his tenure. "It's time now for the sheriff, the state's attorney and other elected officials to make cuts," Goslin said.

Commissioner Peter Silvestri, R-9th, of Elmwood Park also wants to avoid tax increases by cutting the payroll.

"There are enough vacant positions, that if made permanent, could fill the budget gap and keep the people of Cook County from paying the largest sales tax in the country," Silvestri said.

Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-13th, of Evanston said there are more than $200 million a year in the county cash fund balances.

"There are ways to excise $58 million dollars from this budget without having any impact on services to the people of Cook County," Suffredin said.

He added he didn't think there was a nine-vote majority for the cigarette tax. "It won't generate the kind of money we need, but I've said all along, if you're going to do a cigarette tax at all, do it for health reasons."

Finance Committee Chairman John Daley, D-11th, of Chicago has been meeting every day with board members to try to resolve differences. There are now about 90 amendments to the 2004 budget and Daley says he is putting them all in a book.

According to state law, the county must pass a budget by the end of February.

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