County considers $40 vehicle sticker

February 8, 2008 4:41:39 PM PST
Another budget crisis is on the horizon. The Cook County board needs money. It is considering several moves to make ends meet, including a new tax for all Cook County vehicle owners.

It could also mean the closure of several county hospitals.

Cook County commissioners have to have a budget in place by the last day of this month. They're nowhere close. They're looking for nickels and dimes and millions, and they are now turning their attention to a proposal guaranteed to rile car owners from one end of Cook County to the other.

You live in Chicago, you buy a vehicle sticker. Most of the suburbs have their own wheel tax. But even if you've paid that, under this proposal, if you're a car owner in Cook County, you'd have to buy a county vehicle sticker as well for $40.

"Why would I do that? I think it's highway robbery," said Carolyn Wilkins, Chicago Heights.

"Well, I guess I'm gonna have to buy a bicycle, what else?" said Ernesto Camarillo, Chicago.

Who wants to pay for another sticker when you've already got one? But the county board, looking for revenue anywhere, figure a county-wide wheel tax could raise $180 million, and they're thinking about it.

"It's only a Band-Aid. We either put this Band-Aid on, or we shut down the clinics and the hospitals," said Joseph Mario Moreno, Cook County Commissioner.

And that's part of another doomsday scenario presented by county health officials who Friday said that if they have to cut their budget by 13 percent, Provident, and Oak Forest hospitals and all the county clinics would have to close, which would leave Stroger, Cermack and Fantus as the county's health care operation.

"I think what we need to do is raise this revenue and operate this government properly, or we need to shut it down and go home," said Jerry Butler, Cook Co. Commissioner.

Commissioners are surely frustrated. The county president says he supports the countywide wheel tax idea and a modified sales tax hike.

"If that means we have to bring back the sales tax a little, we'll bring it back. How much? You'll find that out later," said Todd Stroger, Cook County Board President.

"They tax your phone. They tax your electric. They tax everything you do - from the time you wake up 'til the time you go to bed, it's taxed. It's unbelievable," said Jimmy Pappas, Cook County resident.

Stroger said he is going to propose a mix of cuts and a sales tax hike, scaled back from his original two percent. He won't yet provide specifics.

The votes aren't there for it now, and they may not be there for the countywide vehicle idea as well. But the pressure to do something will mount as the budget deadline nears.