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Commissioners approve half-cent sales tax break

Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

After months of debate, Cook County commissioners today approved a half-cent sales tax break they believe will stick.

Even before Tuesday's special County Board meeting, called to discuss a rollback of the controversial sales tax hike passed a year ago, suburban Republican Commissioner Tony Peraica, took to his Twitter account and predicted: "County taxpayers are about to get a stimulus gift, a tax reduction."

While he and other commissioners pushed to wipe out the full hike — a penny on the dollar — they couldn't muster a majority of votes to win. So Peraica joined a bi-partisan majority of commissioners in a 12-5 vote in favor of a partial rollback.

Cook County President Todd Stroger, who championed the sales tax hike and vows to veto the rollback, argues this will decimate Cook County's public health system that serves the poor and uninsured.

"This has really become a battle of the haves and have nots. Those who have districts that are economically depressed will suffer with this rollback," Stroger said before the vote. "They are the ones seeking healthcare."

He went on to say: "All these people getting laid off — and they're not getting laid off because of a sales tax ... this is nationwide — are not going to fit in the doors of your South Suburban Hospital ... and your Northwestern [Memorial Hospital]. They're just not going to go anywhere."

Republican Commissioner Tim Schneider, from the northwest suburbs, called the argument against the rollback a scare tactic.

"I don't buy the doomsday scenario that county government will shut down without this sales tax."

John Daley, the powerful head of the county's Finance Committee, along with outgoing Commssioner Forrest Claypool, both suggested the rollback could finally sound the alarm for reforming county government and bringing expenses in line with revenues — without a sales tax hike.

The urgency of today's special meeting, observers say, is the looming Feb. 2 primary in which all 17 commissioners' seats are up, along with Stroger's post, and concern among elected leaders that last year's penny-on-the-dollar sales tax hike is taking center stage.

Some commissioners say the timing of the vote is tied to a weeks-old change in state law, lowering the number of votes it takes to override the board president's veto.

Stroger has wielded his veto stamp three times on proposed sales tax rollbacks with commissioners unable to muster the 14 votes needed to override that decision. But the new law has lowered the threshold to 11 votes.

Stroger has five days to veto the measure and commissioners supporting the giveback say they have the 11 votes to override the veto.

If the measure passes, the rollback goes in to effect July 1, 2010.


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