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Sales-tax increase would more than cover deficit

Thursday, September 27, 2007
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

With a $750 million sales tax-increase vote scheduled for Monday, Cook County administrators revealed Wednesday that next year's deficit is less than half that amount: $307 million.
County Chief Financial Officer Donna Dunnings said that deficit is made up of a roughly $150 million decrease in revenue and a $157 million increase in expenses from the 2007 budget year.
Among the revenue decreases are a predicted $33 million downturn in patient fees, despite an intensive, yearlong effort by new Bureau of Health administrators to collect more money from patients.
Increased costs include $113 million in cost-of-living adjustments in county employee salaries.
Wednesday's release of the projected budget deficit sets the stage for a tax hike showdown on Monday, and the administration-backed effort appears to be gaining steam.
County Commissioner Gregg Goslin, a Glenview Republican, said as recently as Monday that he didn't believe the proposed tax increase would pass. Wednesday, however, he said new developments have him worried the measure could pass.
Whether the sales tax will be increased now rests squarely in the hands of two swing-vote commissioners: Chicago Democrats Roberto Maldonado and Earlean Collins. Neither was available Wednesday, but Maldonado said Monday he was not inclined to support a sales-tax increase but did not rule it out.
Since that time, however, administrators have been lobbying him heavily, sources said.
Business groups have condemned the proposed tax, saying it would drive businesses out of the county.
Commissioner Larry Suffredin of Evanston compared it to a Chicago sales tax passed during the Jane Byrne mayoral administration that prompted many car dealerships to move to the suburbs. Suffredin Monday said he feared such a county tax would similarly drive the dealerships to the collar counties.
Commissioner Tim Schneider, a Republican from Bartlett, opposes any tax increase, as does Goslin. Schneider said Wednesday waste and inefficiencies in county government need to be eliminated instead of taxes being raised.
Proponents of the tax, such as Chicago Democrat Jerry Butler, say the waste in the Bureau of Health was eliminated last year when approximately $100 million was chopped out its budget. Denying the bureau funds now would mean denying poor patients health care, Butler maintains.


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