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Cook County officials are mulling utility taxes and other taxes to raise revenue as they prepare next year's budget

Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Daily Southtown
Editorial

The Issue: Cook County officials are mulling utility taxes and other taxes to raise revenue as they prepare next year's budget.
We say: Before asking citizens to dig deeper, the county needs to eliminate waste, mismanagement and bloated payrolls.
Cook County Commissioner William "The Hog" Beavers has declared an end to patronage in Cook County.
"There's no more patronage," Beavers said last week. "The county has been cut to the bone."
No more patronage? Yeah, sure.
Beaver's pronouncement came amid the county's search for more revenue to support next year's budget. An array of ideas has been proposed. Many of them fall into the "Let's Stick It To The Citizens for Our Inability to Be Fiscally Responsible" file. In other words, taxes.
Beavers has proposed taxes on electricity and natural gas, and he'll soon come up with a telecommunications tax. There also are proposals for taxes on cigars and loose tobacco. And officials reportedly also are considering increasing the county's cigarette tax and sales tax.
Cook County Board President Todd Stroger apparently has given his blessing to Beavers (or rather Beavers has ordered Stroger to give him his blessing) to examine those taxes. A true leader would tell Beavers to shelve those ideas for now. That same leader would tell Beavers and the board to look within county government for waste, mismanagement and bloated payrolls if they are looking for places to find some revenue.
Fortunately, some commissioners, but not enough of them, already are of that mindset.
Commissioner Forrest Claypool told the Southtown: "I think the public would be willing to accept higher taxes for public health and safety if they saw evidence that the county had reformed itself, and there was no waste and fat. But I don't see how you can go to the taxpayers now."
Commissioner Tim Schneider told the Chicago Sun-Times: "If they spent as much time looking for places to cut waste and improve efficiencies as they did looking for things to tax, this government would be in better shape."
Indeed, levying more taxes provides an easy way out for a government that's not used to being efficient.These proposed taxes would hurt county residents' personal budgets. And the poor would feel the impact more than the rich.
As we noted a month ago, the county did cut many health department jobs earlier this year. In fact, the county cut too many highly-skilled positions. Had it scrutinized other departments, it certainly could have found ways to save money here and there without having to slice the health department - arguably the most important department - as much as it did.
A Sun-Times report during the weekend noted that while the number of total county jobs decreased from 26,731 in December to 24,815 in July, the number of jobs paying $60,000 or more grew from 6,497 to 7,672. And the number of jobs paying $100,000 or more stayed about the same. That doesn't look like evidence of comprehensive budgetary scrutiny to us.
As we also noted a month ago, more than 100 complaints from county workers claiming they were victims of patronage were filed between August 2004 and February 2007, according to federal court documents. It is pretty clear the reports of the patronage system's death, as declared by would-be medical examiner Beavers, have been great exaggerated.
Until Beavers and his pals look more closely for areas that can be cut within the current government, don't come at us with any tax proposals.


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