Cook Co. tax hike repeal shot down

CHICAGO The tax revolt, led by Commissioner Tony Peraica, was crushed by board president Todd Stroger and his supporters.

Peraica tried unsuccessfully in 2006 to win the Cook County board presidency. And he tried unsuccessfully to repeal the county's new sales tax, which took effect July 1. So Peraica, the Republican candidate for Cook County state's attorney this year is 0-2 against board president Stroger, who says the county needs the sales tax and it needs him because he is doing, "a damn good job," regardless of what Peraica says or does for political gain.

"We don't need this tax on the working men and women of Cook County who don't even have a voice on the board," Peraica said.

Northwest suburban Palatine, where the Cook County sales tax is ten percent, is just a stone's throw away from Lake County, where it's three percent lower.

Small business owners, such as Bharat Shah of Golden Tobacco in Palatine, say the increase has only driven more business to Lake County.

"We are hurting. That's all I can say because of the Cook County taxes, small business owners are hurting very badly," Shah said.

Peraica claims that his campaign to repeal the county's new sales tax is about protecting poor people not scoring political points.

"This tax is only regressive and will hurt the poor most. And we're trying to help them out? Give me a break, all we're doing is taking food from kids' mouths," Peraica said.

Commissioners, like Larry Suffredin, who supported the tax, reluctantly claim the county can't afford to repeal it without decimating services at the hospitals and the jails.

"These are two of the most irresponsible ordinances I've ever seen," said Suffredin.

Peraica tried, at the last minute, to postpone the repeal vote. But the move was blocked by the parliamentary maneuvering of president Stroger and his allies to cut off debate and force a vote.

The sales tax survived by a vote of 10-7. And after the showdown, a defiant Stroger defended the tax, his handling of the meeting and his overall job performance.

"You know what I'm doing? I'm doing what's best for the people, and until this place falls apart, I'm going to say I'm doing a damn good job," Stroger said.

In Palatine, where there has been talk of seceding from Cook County because of the tax increase, Mayor Rita Mullins says the way state law is currently written, it's practically impossible to do.

"I think it's a very sad day for all the people in Cook County that it was not repealed," Mullins said.

Though he lost this round, Commissioner Peraica said, "Death before surrender," meaning he does plan to bring this up again, most likely when the fiscal '09 budget is presented in October or November.

At the end of the day, Cook County still has the highest sales tax in the country - 10.5 percent. The final penny, or one percentage point, gives the county more than $200 million this year and twice as much next year, raising questions about whether Stroger is willing to consider rolling back the tax when more money rolls in. The answer is a resounding no because, Stroger says, the county has so much to do and so little money to do it with and that his administration needs every dollar from the new tax.

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