Cook County sales tax to fall- but how much?

April 15, 2009 3:28:34 PM PDT
Dueling plans to lower the sales tax could lead to a heated debate in Cook County.The county board president is proposing a partial rollback of last year's 1-percent sales tax hike. But several commissioners say that plan does not go far enough.

That tax hike- pushed by Cook County Board President Todd Stroger- went into effect July 2008 to provide some relief to a growing budget deficit. Now, an infusion of federal stimulus money has him doing an about face and calling for a quarter percent reduction.

For once, Stroger appears to have no opposition. Even his critics say they'll support his plan to roll back the sales tax by a quarter-of-a-penny on each dollar spent. But, they ask: Why stop there?

Wayne Mikes feels like the politicians just don't get. The bike shop owner was among the 72-percent of Palatine residents who recently voted to secede from Cook County.

How's he feel now that Board President Todd Stroger is willing to give back a quarter of the sales tax increase he pushed through last year?

"I guess, insignificant. Basically it's not going to help the situation. It's more of a political move," said Mikes.

Stroger denies politics are at play. But just a few months ago he sought to borrow $360-million when he said he needed to shore-up the budget. Now, he says he has a surplus.

"I'm pleased to report that access to new federal and state funds makes today's proposed roll back possible," said Stroger.

"When we adopted the sales tax, don't forget, Obama wasn't president. There was no stimulus package. We were in dire straits," said Joan Murphy, Cook County commissioner.

Stroger's sudden change of heart comes 10 months before he's expected to face a stiff challenge in the primary election. The rollback would take effect in January, just one month before voters go to the polls.

"I think politics is talking but it's a welcome development," said Forrest Claypool, Cook County commissioner.

"I think with the new composition of the board? we may be able to roll this back and save taxpayers of Cook County $400 million rather than just $100 million," said Tony Peraica, Cook County commissioner.

"I think ultimately you want to get to the entire thing the question is how do you do that in a way that's effect and best for taxpayers but also be responsible?" said Bridget Gainer, Cook County commissioner.

Back in Palatine, Mikes' bike shop is just down the road from Lake County's cheaper sales tax. He says it's going to take more than a quarter-of-a-penny on each dollar spent to keep him competitive.

"The 3-percent difference it is now, or even if it's 2.75, it's still a significant difference between the sales tax and people pay attention to that," said Mikes.

It appears the debate will not be about whether to roll back the new sales tax, but instead, by how much? Even with the Stroger cut, consumers in Chicago would still pay one of the highest sales taxes in the nation.


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