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Stroger vs. Preckwinkle: Hide your wallets.

Monday, November 20, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Editorial Board

Questions we have after hearing Todd Stroger say Monday he wants to run against Toni Preckwinkle to reclaim his old job as Cook County Board president:

Is Stroger serious? Does he remember why he was ousted by Preckwinkle in the 2010 Democratic primary? He lost because of his reviled, rescinded penny-per-dollar sales tax increase.

Does Stroger recognize Preckwinkle, finishing her second term as board president, is now in a similar precarious situation with fuming taxpayers because of her own reviled, rescinded penny-per-ounce soda tax? Yet Stroger hopes to challenge her without showing a whit of remorse for having slammed residents with his own unnecessary tax increase? Really?

What the heck is it with these Cook County Democratic pols and their tax gouges? Are bad penny taxes like the proverbial bad penny and destined to return again and again, even though they are an irresponsible creation of the county’s inbred tax-and-spend culture?

Additional question in the form of a matching game: Which of the above candidates justified tax increases by stating “revenue is reform” and which one decreed “you must support revenue”? Answer: Stroger pushed for the 2008 retail sales tax increase and said “revenue is reform,” while Preckwinkle defended her 2017 soda tax as a required contribution. She also insisted her tax would help change the beverage habits of thirsty people, as if the public asked county officials for lifestyle advice.

Bonus question: Who responded to county tax overreaches with thunderous protests? Thankfully, you the public did, which was why Stroger’s penny-per-dollar sales tax increase died and why Preckwinkle’s penny-per-ounce sweetened beverage tax also went flat.

Stroger’s tax cost him his position. In 2008 he added the 1 percentage point sales tax (recall that he wanted to add 2 percentage points), but taxpayers revolted. His board cut the increase in half and Preckwinkle rescinded the rest after succeeding him. Unfortunately, Preckwinkle later reinstated Stroger's 1 percentage-point sales tax increase. Yet even that wasn’t enough money to sate Cook County’s appetite: Preckwinkle launched the soda tax, which also hit a brick wall with voters. That tax disappears Dec. 1.

With the soda tax gone, Preckwinkle belatedly grasped that the first priority in management of taxpayer money is to ensure every dollar — and penny — is spent responsibly. The soda tax would have been an easy way to close a budget gap, but it was a terrible idea. Now, Preckwinkle and County Board members appear ready to lay off workers, cut unfilled positions and make other reductions.

Stroger, whose late father, John Stroger, also served as board president, has been out of elected office since being trounced by Preckwinkle. He appears to have taken away the exact wrong message about Cook County government. Stroger says he feels vindicated his sales tax increase was later reinstated when he should be expressing regret for squeezing residents.

As Stroger made the media rounds Monday, he sounded keen to get his job back, but we heard no new ideas about how to be a good steward of the people’s money. “There’s always some natural growth,” he said on television. Unfortunately, he wasn’t referring to the accrual of political wisdom. He was talking about county spending.

Penny for our thoughts? The Democratic primary is four months away. Besides Preckwinkle and Stroger, former Chicago Ald. Bob Fioretti is planning a run. Perhaps other candidates will step forward. Let this contest focus on smart governance, not creative taxation.

Join the discussion on Twitter @Trib_Ed_Board and on Facebook.

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