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Stroger vetoes Cook Co. sales tax hike repeal

Monday, May 11, 2009
Daily Herald
by Joseph Ryan

A sales tax reprieve for Cook County and Chicago shoppers was in jeopardy Monday with a veto from a confident county board President Todd Stroger, who argues the repeal would shutter health care facilities and gut other critical services.

Stroger - whose quest for a political lifeline by taking back some of the unpopular tax increase turned quickly into an anchor around his leg with a sudden board revolt last week - said Monday he believes sales tax opponents won't be able to muster the 14 votes needed on the 17-member board to overturn his veto.

And as his political future remains in question with looming elections, Stroger launched an assault on his critics, blaming them for the county's financial problems and portraying his tax hike as prudent policy.

"The reality is that this board is responsible for the financial difficulties Cook County has confronted for many years," said Stroger, a first-term president and son of longtime board president John Stroger Jr., in a statement.

Stroger said the 1 percentage-point tax repeal would cost the county $245 million this year and nearly $500 million next year, threatening two county hospitals and various health clinics along with funding for police and the courts.

The county currently collects 1.75 percent of every dollar spent on merchandise, or $1.75 for every $100. Add in sales taxes for other governmental bodies and the total sales tax comes to more than $10 for every $100 spent on merchandise in Chicago - the highest sales tax rate in the nation - and nearly as much in several suburbs.

Stroger announced his veto on 1690 WVON-AM on Chicago's South Side, the center of his political base.

"It has been a very good life for my critics," Stroger said on the air. "They can complain and get in the paper and get on TV shows and say the president is not doing anything."

But while Stroger insists he has the three votes necessary to maintain his veto, it is clear he is now attracting more powerful critics.

Cook County Commissioner John Daley, the brother of Chicago's mayor, voted for the sales tax repeal last week. Plus, lawmakers in Springfield have been hoping to pass a state law to roll back the tax increase, which has become a favorite target of Republicans in the suburbs.

County board members will likely take up the veto at the next board meeting May 19.

Commissioner Forrest Claypool, Stroger's 2006 Democratic primary opponent, said the veto will get a vote, but he is not too hopeful it will be overridden.

"I'm very skeptical that the votes are there for an override," he said.

But others remain more positive.

Commissioner Larry Suffredin, an Evanston Democrat who provided the key vote for the tax hike last year but voted for repeal last week, said the votes may materialize.

"I think there is still a chance," Suffredin said.

Two commissioners, Chicago Democrats Earlean Collins and Deborah Sims, were not present for last week's vote and it seems an override depends on their support. They didn't return calls seeking comment.

On Monday, Stroger seemed sure he had their support.

"I would just say that I don't think the votes are there to override the veto," he said on the afternoon radio program.

Ironically, the idea for a full 1-percentage-point sales tax repeal appeared to gain steam considerably after Stroger announced he wanted a small rollback of it. His plan would have reduced the county's take from 1.75 cents on every dollar spent to 1.5 cents.

Stroger's proposal was criticized as a political ploy in advance of next year's elections. But many supporters of the full 1-percentage-point repeal say they are hopeful some kind of cutback in last year's sales tax hike will come regardless of Stroger's veto.

"I certainly think that at least that (original proposal) should and will come back," said Commissioner Timothy Schneider, a Bartlett Republican. "I would support any way we can reduce the impact of this egregious tax."

Veto: Some hold hope for override

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