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Commentary: Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer: I won't vote for a sales tax hike

Thursday, July 02, 2015
Chicago Tribune
by Bridget Gainer

In the next few weeks the Cook County Board will be asked to vote to increase the county sales tax. I will vote no. The sales tax is regressive and a penalty to the poor. It punishes businesses on the edge of Cook County and pushes consumers to buy goods on the Internet. Don't get me wrong, the county has a serious budget and pension cost gap, predicted to be $479 million. The proposed 1 percentage point increase in the sales tax would raise some $474 million annually. Preckwinkle proposes a 10.25% sales tax for Cook County, which would return an extra $473 million in revenue to the county. But $130 million of the deficit goes away with pension reform. An additional $50 million in savings has already been identified by the budget staff. Yet another $50 million is in reach if we are finally willing to consolidate our redundant taxing bodies and duplicative services. Step by step, we can do this. One of those steps is the worst-kept secret in government. For decades, Cook County reformers have asked: Why does the county have so many separate taxing bodies? Why do we have a Cook County sheriff's police force and a Forest Preserves police department? Mosquito abatement districts? Two election agencies? Combining costly, redundant offices could save $50 million. That's $50 million we don't need to collect in sales tax from county taxpayers. Nix the Toni Tax. Then fix Cook County. As chair of the County Board's Pension Committee, let me be yet another elected official to implore Gov. Bruce Rauner to support the Cook County pension reform proposal. It is a model for how the state budget crisis can be solved because it is backed with union support and actuarial math. Our workforce and unions did not sit back and wait for taxpayers to solve our pension problem. We came together and everyone gave something to gain solvency. Passing pension reform now would reduce the amount the county would have to increase the sales tax by $130 million a year. That's $130 million that can stay in taxpayers' pockets. So I will oppose the sales tax increase. Not because I am opposed to new revenue, or because I think government is the problem. I believe government is vital to take on some of the hardest jobs we have. Just ask the correctional officers at Cook County Jail or the nurses at Stroger Hospital. But residents throughout the county are bracing as their state and local governments swim in red ink.   Before we ask our taxpayers for more, let's make sure we've done everything we can to make county government work for all of us.

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