Stroger no champion of the have-nots
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
by Phil Kadner
T odd Stroger is right. There is a battle between the haves and have-nots in Cook County.
But the fact is that the haves support the have-nots with their tax
money. They fund Stroger Hospital, named after Todd's father. They
finance the court system, the highway department, the sheriff's
department, the county jail and provide the paychecks for the patronage
County Commissioner John Daley (D-Chicago), the son of Hizzoner and brother of Richard II, understands what's going on.
Something has changed. Times are tough. People are losing their jobs
and their homes. The haves may still have something, but not as much as
they did a year ago.
And tomorrow, they may be among the have-nots.
So Daley was among the 12 commissioners who voted May 5 to rescind
the sales tax increase that was imposed last summer and that Stroger
claims the county needs to fund its programs.
And on Tuesday, he was one of 11 voting to override Stroger's veto
of the county board's attempt to roll back the 1-percentage-point tax
hike. That was three short of the votes needed to override the veto.
This is all about politics and the 2010 county election, Daley
suggested, and he was right. But I'm not sure Stroger understood,
although he has said the same thing.
Politics is not all bad, although people sometimes use the word as if it had only four letters.
The reason you have elections every four years is so people,
taxpayers, can change the government if they don't like the way things
Candidates can criticize the existing government and make the case
for throwing the incumbents out of office. The incumbents can explain
why they're better qualified to do the job.
Stroger has spent four years proving he doesn't have a clue about politics or taxes or public appeal.
You can't hire a restaurant bus boy with a felony conviction record
on the one hand and claim you've done everything you can to balance the
budget on the other.
You can't claim your cousin, whom you made the county's chief
financial officer, is indispensible one day and the next day fire her
for bailing your bus boy out of jail.
That's the sort of thing that makes the taxpayers question whether they can trust you with their tax dollars.
Stroger doesn't get it. Never has. Never will.
That's because has has always lived among the haves. He has clout.
He has power. He has influence. He's connected. He's gotten political
jobs handed to him all his life.
The have-nots are not only those without money but those without influence.
Stroger thinks people in the northwest, west and southwest suburbs
should support Cook County because it is the right thing to do. He
implies they only want to dismantle the county government now because
it helps the poor, who are mostly minority.
I would respond that these white suburban people have spent billions
supporting county programs over decades. And they are willing to
continue spending billions if only Stroger would show them some respect
by proving the money is spent wisely.
Commissioner Deborah Sims (D-Chicago), whose district also includes
some of the poorest south suburbs, voted Tuesday to uphold Stroger's
veto. She rejected arguments that the sales tax is hurting businesses
in Cook County. Sims said her community has no businesses.
That is an exaggeration. But there are many areas in Sims' district that have few stores.
What she fails to understand is that the tax structure of Illinois
and Cook County make it nearly impossible for small shop owners to stay
in business in poorer neighborhoods.
Property and sales taxes, fees, and, yes, the cost of political
corruption and crime, drive them out of business. It makes new
merchants think twice about opening stores.
All Sims should do is look across the border of her district to Northwest Indiana, and she would see plenty of new stores.
Yet, a few miles away in Park Forest, Ford Heights, Chicago Heights, there's almost nothing.
Why? My guess is Sims has never asked the question.
Her have-not communities have even less today because of politicians like her and Stroger.
There are real problems with controlling the cost of county
government. But no one trusts Stroger when he tells them that story.
Who gets hurt each time Stroger's credibility is damaged? The have-nots. The people who voted for Stroger.
Ironically, the same people hit hardest by that county sales tax
increase to 1.75 percent. The same people who will put quarters into
legalized video poker games. The same poor jokers who spend $1 on a
lottery ticket hoping to get rich.
Elected leaders, such as Stroger, have betrayed both the haves and the have-nots.
What's left is a government in crisis.
The politically connected win. But everyone else loses.
Phil Kadner can be reached at email@example.com or (708) 633-6787.