Stroger's sales tax rollback called a ploy for re-election
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
by Lisa Donovan
Cook County President Todd Stroger wants to roll back a portion of
the controversial sales tax increase the county board pushed through
last year, a move hailed as keeping a promise to taxpayers and
criticized as a political chess maneuver leading up to the 2010
His proposal is to reduce the county portion of the sales tax from 1.75
percent to 1.5 percent, taking Chicago’s overall sales tax from its
current national high of 10.25 percent to an even 10 percent. That
saves taxpayers in Cook County 25 cents for every $100 they spend.
Stroger said a rollback has always been a possibility since the board passed a 1 percent increase last July.
“We stated that if we thought there was a time where we would be able
to roll it back or a portion of it, then we would do that — and that
time has come upon us,” Stroger said.
Stroger’s move counts on expected federal stimulus dollars, though he
couldn’t provide an exact dollar figure for how much money the county
expects to receive.
Stroger’s administration has said the 1 percent increase would generate
close to $400 million. Cutting that hike by 25 percent would mean the
county loses about $100 million in expected revenues.
Commissioners William Beavers and Joan Murphy backed Stroger’s
proposal, saying it provides some relief to taxpayers while being
Detractors questioned the wisdom of the rollback, considering Stroger
had pushed to borrow millions — by issuing bonds — to cover operating
“We didn’t have this federal money two months ago, we didn’t know what
we were going to get. We didn’t know if we’d get any money,” Stroger
said, responding to the criticism.
Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th), who is expected to challenge Stroger in
next year’s Democratic primary, branded the tax rollback a desperate
attempt by an embattled incumbent to salvage his re-election bid.
“Other than fact that the election is closer, what’s happened in the
last month to lead people to believe we no longer have need for the
money?” she said.
Preckwinkle questioned Stroger’s judgment in pushing through a 1
percent increase in the first place — apparently more than the county
needed — and proposing the 25 percent rollback only after a new county
budget was passed.
Stroger’s proposal could be voted on during the May 5 election. If
approved, it wouldn’t go in to effect until January. While there seems
to be consensus among the commissioners that a rollback is necessary,
there are at least two factions saying they want to wipe out last
year’s increase altogether.
Commissioner Tony Peraica is proposing to zap the 1 percent sales hike
immediately, while a coalition of four commissioners wants to gradually
phase out the increase. The group includes Forrest Claypool, Larry
Suffredin, Timothy Schneider and Bridget Gainer, sworn in Wednesday to
take over for Mike Quigley, who’s heading to Congress.
“We’ve got to take it a step further,” Claypool said of Stroger’s
proposal. “We’ve got to go all the way we need to repeal this onerous
tax, this unfair tax that people are suffering under in one of the most
difficult economies in our lifetime.”