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About that Cook County sales tax ...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009
SouthtownStar
by SouthtownStar editorial staff

Where to begin? Of the five Cook County Board members who, once again, defended President Todd Stroger's sales tax last week, three hail from the Southland: Deborah Sims (D-Chicago), Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood) and Jerry Butler (D-Chicago).

Southland board members Elizabeth Doody Gorman (R-Orland Park) and John Daley (D-Chicago) both voted to reduce it - although Daley supported the tax hike in 2008 until he felt the blister of voter outrage.

Now we'll see if Stroger vetoes it again.

Sims nearly agreed to a half-cent rollback in September but changed her mind at the last minute. She has been firmly in Stroger's corner ever since, repeating unsubstantiated claims that reducing the sales tax by a half-penny would jeopardize health care delivery to residents of the 5th District.

The county's own health bureau indicated it can streamline operations without major closures and within the constraints of a reduced sales tax - but Sims and others simply won't be convinced. That's their story, and they're sticking to it.

Murphy, a reliable Stroger ally, voted to reduce the tax in October. She, too, changed her mind. She was back in Stroger's camp holding it firmly in place. Butler also is an unwavering supporter of the county's one-cent sales tax increase.

So has a half penny become the sole barometer of success vs. failure on the Cook County Board?

As taxpayers, we shouldn't be uncorking the champagne for a half-cent rollback on the county's portion of the sales tax. The problems facing Cook County are far too complex and serious to be overshadowed by what amounts to a symbolic victory for taxpayers, not meaningful relief.

That said, we support the reduction in the hope it will set in motion a belt-tightening on spending, albeit one teeny, tiny notch. We wish it was a serious diet. The county spends too much on personnel, too much on patronage workers, too much on lawsuit settlements, too much on public relations, consultants and attorney fees, and too much on programs and projects that lack accountability. Too much, period.

Sims and Murphy, for example, use their taxpayer-funded "contingency" allotment - a little slush fund for commissioners - on car leases, as revealed in a Fox News Chicago report earlier this month. Sims spends $804 to lease a Cadillac. Murphy spends $839 per month on a Lexus. It's outrageous taxpayers are supporting vehicle expenses, let alone luxury ones.

So while the sales tax should play a role in next year's election, it shouldn't be the only measurement. Commissioners, all of them, must be accountable on a whole host of issues, including their budget oversight of all areas of government and their own offices.

The sales tax rollback certainly has been the hottest topic. But it shouldn't be the only one.



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