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Selle: Pop tax defeat in Cook County should embolden timid voters

Monday, October 23, 2017
Chicago Sun-Times
by Charles Selle

That loud sound you hear is the grinding and gnashing by elected officials across Illinois since Cook County residents chalked up a victory on behalf of taxpayers everywhere.

The Cook County's controversial "sweetened" beverage tax was repealed after a taxpayer revolt the size few have ever witnessed in the Land of Lincoln. Usually, citizens just accept new taxes, suck it up and merely gripe about how expensive it is to live in Illinois.

But this time, normally timorous taxpayers stood their ground and said they weren't going to take it anymore. The Cook County tax rebellion should be a cautionary tale for public bodies across the region.

Perhaps it was the blatant falsehood that the pop tax was enacted for health reasons. Or maybe Cook County residents have suffered long enough with what political scientists call "tax fatigue," paying some of the highest taxes in the state.

Cook County taxes may be high, but of course the Illinois county with the highest property taxes is Lake County, according to the Illinois Policy Institute. Lake County property taxes — with a median of nearly $7,000 annually — rank 21st highest in the U.S., and tops in the Midwest.

That ranking doesn't consider the other various taxes we pay to make it through a normal day. In comparison, Cook County residents face a median of about $4,500 annually to live in their homes.

On the other hand, they have all sorts of growing add-on taxes. Like a wheel tax on vehicles, a 10.25 percent sales tax — one of the highest in the U.S. — and other levies. For a few months, they had that "sweetened" beverage tax.

While prodded by the beverage industry — which Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle unsuccessfully tried to label "Big Soda," like big government is the little guy — potential voters did the one thing that scares elected officials: They started writing, emailing, faxing and calling their county commissioners to express dissatisfaction with the pop tax. They started shopping in neighboring counties.

It wasn't only pop drinkers from tony North Shore communities. Nope, consumers from across Cook County pummeled their commissioners into repealing the tax. And they didn't care that urging officials to renege on the tax means there's a $200 million hole in the Cook County budget.

With one anti-tax win notched, will Cook County taxpayers pour over the other sin taxes and fees they pay? One can only hope.

Just days after the pop tax revolt was sorted out, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed hiking the city's amusement tax on large venues and increasing the city's tax on cell phones and landlines. These guys just don't get it.

Not that officials in Lake County are less tax happy.

Nearly every Lake County community has a litany of add-on taxes and fees residents pay little attention to because most are buried in the fine print of their monthly bills.

For instance, there's city and village excise taxes on cell phones, internet access, cable usage. There's amusement and entertainment taxes on theater, movie tickets and, in Gurnee, an admission tax to Six Flags Great America.

Some officials in home=rule communities have hiked sales taxes on top of the federal gasoline and regional mass transit taxes we pay at the pump. Of course, the state hasn't been shy about those "hidden" taxes, either.

Illinois is only one of seven states in the U.S. that charges sales tax on gasoline. There's telecomm taxes, a state 9-1-1 tax on phone bills; liquor and cigarette taxes; state taxes on electricity and natural gas usage, along with a state gas revenue tax on suppliers of natural gas, who pass that charge along to consumers.

With off-presidential elections next year, voters need to stop being timid and hold candidates' accountable for the taxes they've supported in the past. They need to question their elected representatives about their future taxing plans. You know they have them.

Charles Selle is a former News-Sun reporter, political editor and editor.

sellenews@gmail.com



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