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Cook County budget passes

Saturday, March 01, 2008
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

The Cook County Board voted early Saturday to double the county sales tax, ending a five-month budget stalemate while many of the taxpayers who will foot the bill were asleep.

By a 10-7 tally, County Board President Todd Stroger got his long-sought tax increase and with it, more than 1,000 new county jobs.

"Cook County remains open for business," Stroger said as the board avoided a partial shutdown. "With the passage of this budget, we are now able to bridge our moral responsibility with our fiscal responsibility."

Under the deal, the county portion of the sales tax increases from 0.75 percent to 1.75 percent in November. As a result, someone buying $100 worth of merchandise will pay an extra dollar in sales tax.

Chicago's overall sales tax will stand at 10.25 percent, the highest of any major U.S. city. In suburban Cook, the sales tax would be a minimum of 9 percent. By comparison, the rates in New York and Los Angeles are below 8.5 percent. "This tax increase is unjustified for too many reasons to mention at 10 minutes to midnight," said Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago) during debate.

Key to resolving the impasse was a deal between Stroger and Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston), who agreed to provide the crucial ninth vote to get the tax increases approved. In return, Stroger agreed to turn over control of county health services to an independent oversight panel for three years.

Suffredin, who long had opposed any sales tax increase, dismissed critics' notion that the hike would chase away businesses and jobs.

"I've heard them say that for 30 years, and I look downtown and I only see cranes. There's a disconnect there," Suffredin said minutes before the board met to vote on the plan.



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