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County weighs sales tax hike, to 9%
Idea is one of several proposals to plug deficit of $100 million

Tuesday, October 28, 2003
Chicago Sun-Times

The sales tax in Chicago would jump to 9 percent under a proposal being considered by Cook County officials to plug a projected $100 million deficit.

The quarter-percentage-point boost in the Cook County sales tax would put Chicago on par with New Orleans as one to the top two major cities with a 9 percent sales tax rate.  Parts of Alabama have sales tax rates of 11 percent, but no other cities of Chicago’s stature have a 9 percent rate. 

The sales tax is just one of several ideas county officials have floated over the past few weeks, including a hotel-motel fax and a tax on leased vehicles and computers.  It was not clear Monday whether the tax hike would make it into the final budget proposal to be presented Thursday.

In past years, Board President John Stroger commanded enough votes on his board to fend off amendments to his budget.  But the election last year of five new commissioners makes it unclear if Stroger has nine votes necessary to pass the sales tax hike if that is included in the budget.

Promising to make the administration justify every line item and force reforms in the light of the fatal fire in the county administration building, Commissioner Larry Suffredin, a Democrat from Evanston, said: “I am prepared to go through every job slot--I hope they’re prepared to sit here for the next month—ther’s going to be money to sprinkle every building, pressurize every stairwell.  It’s going to be tedious to go through, but we’re going to do it.”

Commissioner Greg Goslin, a Republican from Glenview, opposes the sales tax increase.

“It will be disproportionately felt by the poorest of our citizens,” Goslin said.  “The question is: Are there nine votes to pass it?  I think there’s $100 million of expenses that can be cut from various places.”

If all five Republicans and four opposition-bloc Democrats oppose the tax hike, it loses.

“The sales and lease tax I think we can live with,” said Commissioner Bobbie Steele, a Chciago Democrat.  “It has been projected to get us enough money to get through 2004.” 

The Cook County rate is currently .75 percent, and would increase to 1 percent.  The county gets only 75 cents for every $100 spent in Chicago.  The state of Illinois gets $6.25.  The city of Chicago gets $1.  The RTA gets 75 cents.  The county uses its money to guard prisoners at the Cook County Jail, prosecute criminals and run the county hospital and health clinics.

Some suburbs have no sales tax.  Others, like Rosemont and Stone Park, have sales tax rates higher than Chicago’s.  Indiana has a statewide 6 percent sales tax.

Stroger says in his three terms he has cut positions, trimmed fat, and helped acquire a higher than ever bond rating.  But critics say plenty of cronies still bloat the county payroll.

“We’d hope he would be looking at reducing employment and cutting operational costs before they went to taxpayers looking for more money,” said Laurence Msall of the Civic Federation of Chicago.  Msall credited Stroger with doing a better job cutting his staff than other elected county officials over the past several years.

“Cook County government is legendary for its waste and bloat and I think the first priority has to be spending cuts, not tax increases,” said Commissioner Forrest Claypool, a Chicago Democrat.


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