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Keep your taxes at bay

Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

Four Cook County commissioners Tuesday railed against board President John Stroger for suggesting a tax increase may be necessary this year, but they also saved some of their admonitions for the public.

Elected officials, they said, are creatures of the public. And if the public doesn't act, neither will the officials.

"It was public outrage last year that allowed us to succeed by one vote in blocking a $140 million sales tax increase," said Forrest Claypool, a Chicago Democrat. "If the public is mobilized, if the public expresses its anger, I think the commissioners on the board will hear that as they did last year. But we need to hear from the public again."

"This is actually a question of will," said Chicago Democrat Mike Quigley. "It's a question of will as to whether or not people are willing to say no to those who want more."

Quigley and Claypool joined Anthony Peraica, a Riverside Republican, and Larry Suffredin, an Evanston Democrat, in chastising Stroger for not yet releasing a budget, even though the fiscal year begins today.

And even though the four haven't yet seen the proposed budget, they issued a top 10 list of areas that could be cut before a tax increase is necessary.

The items totaled savings of $239 million, more than the $146 million deficit Stroger has said the county is facing. The items include leaving unfilled positions open, a 2 percent cut across the board for all departments, doing away with so-called "step increases" in pay for county employees, and privatizing services.

Cutting expenses before raising taxes "is always a good philosophy," said Carl Hansen, a Mount Prospect Republican who voted against new taxes last year. But Hansen left the door open to a tax increase this year, particularly if a federal judge orders the county to hire more guards at the jail, as he indicated he is likely to do.

"Everybody believes every government in the world in every country can be cut. Sometimes that's true, it can be. Sometimes that's not true," Hansen said.

Stroger's office pointed out that the president has already cut $100 million or so from this year's budget and has delayed issuing it precisely to seek more cuts.

The county board will meet today and likely pass a temporary stop-gap budget to continue operations until it receives Stroger's budget.

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