County sales tax will be rolled back half-penny

Cook County Board overrides Stroger's sales tax rollback veto
December 1, 2009 3:16:37 PM PST
Cook County commissioners voted Tuesday to rollback the county's sales tax by a half-penny on the dollar. That overrides a veto by board president Todd Stroger. Commissioners voted by a 12-to-5 margin to override the veto. Stroger was able to successfully veto three previous efforts to rollback the tax. But a new state law helped commissioners override this one.

The new state law signed by Governor Quinn last month says it only takes 11 Cook County commissioners to override a veto by President Stroger when it used to take 14 votes. But Stroger didn't blame the governor Tuesday-- he pointed at the news media.

"This is really the culmination of the press dragging me through the mud for three years," Stroger said.

Before his post-override news conference, President Stroger made his final plea to county board members, warning commissioners that they courted "total financial disaster." And, he said, that while a half-cent sales tax rollback two months before the 2010 primary might seem politically expedient, the move would have a deadly affect on the county's public health care system.

"Some people will die needlessly for lack of access to the healthcare our system provides today," said Stroger.

The independent hospital system boss, William Foley, agreed with President Stroger that by 2011 the tax rollback will mean unspecified cuts at public hospitals and clinics that serve the poor and uninsured.

"We will not be able to treat as many people...We simply would not have the resources to do that, so we definitely would have to look at cutting services," said Foley, Cook County Health System CEO.

But 12 of the 17 commissioners-- enough to override the veto under the new state law -- were not convinced by Stroger or Foley. They said that businesses along the county borders were losing customers to stores in collar counties and some were leaving higher-taxed Cook County altogether.

"What happens to the people who were employed in those businesses? They have to go out and find jobs--generally, probably outside of Cook County," said Comm. Timothy Schneider, (R) Bartlett.

Commissioner Earlene Collins supported the rollback because she says that's what her constituents wanted.

"It's five to one for the rollback, five to one," Collins said.

Stroger criticized Collins, commissioners Robert Steele and Edwin Reyes --all with now-threatened clinics in their districts -- for not standing with him against the rollback.

"So, I was very disappointed to see that those that represent the have-nots did not stand up on this issue," Stroger said.

Again, the sales tax will not be reduced at Cook County cash registers until July of 2010. It is estimated the half-cent-on-the-dollar rollback will cost the county $30 million in 2010 and nearly $200 million in 2011.

This rollback vote defuses one of the biggest issues in the county board president's race in which President Stroger's three opponents have supported a tax rollback.


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