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The Cook County 14

Monday, July 27, 2009
Chicago Tribune
by Chicago Tribune editorial staff

Fourteen co-sponsors. That's how many Cook County Board members are so disturbed by dying jobs and businesses that they decided to cut in half a sales tax hike that smacks poor citizens hardest. Signing on as co-sponsors of this tax rollback was a courageous act for some of the Cook County 14. So all of us ought to offer our thanks and congrats to Forrest Claypool, Earlean Collins, John Daley, Bridget Gainer, Elizabeth Doody Gorman, Gregg Goslin, Roberto Maldonado, Joan Patricia Murphy, Tony Peraica, Tim Schneider, Pete Silvestri, Deborah Sims, Robert Steele and Larry Suffredin.

But last week's board vote to nix half of the full-percentage-point increase on Jan. 1 isn't the end of their attention to this issue. Owing to a devilish paradox, any one of the 14 now has the power to . . . keep all of this corrosive sales tax in place.

That's because board President Todd Stroger thinks the only thing to do with a tax decrease vote like last week's is veto it. Overriding his veto -- most likely at a Sept. 1 meeting -- requires an 80-percent vote of the 17-member board. That's 14 members. And since three board members -- William Beavers, Jerry "Iceman" Butler and Joseph Mario Moreno -- avowedly embrace all of Stroger's tax increase, all 14 co-sponsors will need to join in voting to override.

Stroger will try to make this override vote difficult for the 14 to cast. His veto statement Friday repeated his usual scare tactics -- a tax rollback threatens essential services, the resulting budget cut would be "colossally irresponsible," and on and on. Expect to hear Stroger imploring board members to ignore the plight of taxpayers and keep in place all of his beloved increase.

This sort of harping doesn't always work. Board members have defeated other Stroger-backed tax hikes -- always amid hair-on-fire warnings that without more new revenue, county government would collapse, untreated medical patients would die in gutters, and criminals would run roughshod in the streets. Hasn't happened.

This year, though, Stroger also confronts the Great Recession: Board members surely noted that, even as Stroger vetoed their rollback, the Illinois Department of Employment Security said the Chicago metro area's jobless rate had risen to 11.3 percent in June.

How many Cook County residents are part of that statistic because high taxes on employers -- and their customers -- have driven retail purchasing to other counties, other states and the Internet? What prospective shopper within a day's drive of this metropolis hasn't heard that Chicago has the highest big-city sales tax in America? How many more jobs have to vanish before County Board members kill Stroger's entire tax hike -- and finally streamline his unaffordable, overstaffed government?

Stroger can apply all the pressure he wants. But this discussion has changed since he jammed through his tax hike on Feb. 29, 2008. Board members now talk less about what Stroger's government supposedly "needs" -- and more about the massive loss of jobs and stores on their watch.

Overriding Stroger's veto is the necessary prelude to undoing the damage his tax increase has inflicted. We trust that, come Sept. 1, all of the Cook County 14 will demonstrate the strength that led them to co-sponsor this rollback.

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