More debate over county sales tax

New proposal would increase Cook County sales tax by 1.25 percent
February 25, 2008 3:59:55 PM PST
In more debate on the Cook County budget Monday, the finance committee has withdrawn a proposal to increase the county sales tax to 2.75 percent. But a new plan was introduced calling on a smaller increase.

The new proposal on the table is for a 1.25 percent Cook County sales tax increase, which still would make Chicago's overall sales tax one of the highest in the country. But the reduction does not appear to have budged any of the nine anti-tax commissioners, who for now still hold a one vote majority.

"The last thing that the county taxpayers can do is to afford to pay more in county taxes," said Tony Peraica, (R) Riverside.

Peraica remains the most outspoken anti-sales tax increase commissioner. He is joined by the board's four other Republicans and four Democrats.

President Todd Stroger, who does not have a vote, recommended the increase to close the county's $238 million deficit and to avoid across-the-board 18 percent cuts in all county departments.

Officials at the county health bureau, which operates Stroger, Oak Forest, Provident hospitals and over a half-dozen clinics, say the projected cuts on top of last year's reduction will devastate services to its poor and uninsured patients.

Director Dr. Robert Simon repeated his threat to quit if the bureau takes another hit.

"I will resign. What the heck should I stay here for?" said Dr. Robert Simon, bureau of health director.

The pro-tax commissioners want anti-tax colleague Robert Maldonado, a longtime health bureau supporter, to change his vote. But Maldonado says new taxes on hotels, SUVs, jet fuel and bar drinks would a better idea-- any type tax but a sales tax.

"It's just that the president only is thinking about one form of tax ," said Roberto Maldonado, (D) Cook County commissioner.

During the finance committee meeting, about 30 people testified for or against the sales tax increase.

"I just don't know how much more we can continue to pay," said Jerry Roper, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

And one speaker, worried about healthcare cuts, called out Maldonado in two languages.

"I thought that you represented healthcare, and that you care about healthcare, and all these little taxes that you're trying, that ain't going to fly," said David Herrera, hearing witness.

At the end of the meeting, Maldonado told reporters he might consider a 0.25 percent sales tax increase, calling that a lot better than 1.25 percent. Perhaps that's sign of movement.

The finance committee reconvenes on Wednesday.