We've had this debate before, and my opinion hasn't changed since our last go-round under Todd Stroger with raising the sales tax on the hardworking taxpayers of Cook County -- my position remains an absolute NO vote.
The proposed increase hurts people, particularly our most vulnerable, cripples economic development, and will devastate businesses throughout my district in the Northwest suburbs on the borders of Lake, DuPage and Kane counties. Our job, as elected officials, should be to drive business into Cook County, not drive it out.
I applaud President Preckwinkle for her work toward streamlining Cook County's operations and becoming a more effective and responsible government, but we need to continue on this path of reform. We need to affirm our dedication toward getting our spending under control. Increasing taxes will do nothing but further enable our ability to spend. The elected officials and employees of Cook County work for the taxpayers, and the taxpayers do not want or deserve a tax increase.
It's not right, nor is it fair, to fix our pension problems on the backs of the taxpayers, when the vast majority of them will not be receiving a pension of their own. Taxpayers need to hold us accountable for solving our own financial problems.
The county has financial difficulties because we spend too much money. Before we turn to you, the taxpayer, we need to make every effort to solve our problems ourselves.
We can fix our budget and pension system without going to the taxpayers. President Preckwinkle has worked hard for two years trying to solve the pension crisis. The current pension reform bills in Springfield all have many good points, as they raise the retirement age, require greater contributions from employees, reduce cost-of-living adjustments, and reduce the county's cost for retiree health care.
However, every month we wait increases county indebtedness, and we must stop the bleeding.
Asking for more of your money while there are still so many other options and efficiencies on the table is taking things out of order. We need to continue work toward real structural reform and automation in how we do business. Consolidating and eliminating offices with duplicate and overlapping functions would provide savings.
The offices of the assessor, clerk, treasurer, and recorder of deeds should be merged into a single Tax Administration Office. Currently, all of these offices are run by separately elected officials and the county board has very limited oversight of their operations and spending.
Reducing the number of county employees through attrition and working with unions to implement work rules that instill a culture of collaboration and efficiency are only a few of the things that we should -- must -- do before turning to the taxpayers.
Further, the Cook County Health and Hospital System needs to improve its quality of patient care. Our CountyCare patients now have an option to go to the Cook County Health System or visit one of our partners for care. If we can retain our patients, we will realize savings that bring us closer to our goal of a balanced budget without further raising taxes on an already overtaxed population.
Simply put, Cook County needs to do more with less, just as the hardworking taxpayers who call this county home have been forced to do over past years. We must look to curb expenses rather than dig into your pockets for new revenue once again. The real solution lies in making the hard decisions and embracing the changes and efficiencies that would cut costs and allow us to best serve you without raising taxes.
Timothy O. Schneider, a Republican of Bartlett, is Cook County commissioner for the 15th District.