Stroger defends tax rollback veto

May 12, 2009 (CHICAGO) While most commissioners say the issue is an unpopular tax, the president says its about healthcare for the county's poor.

"Mr. President, you did the right thing at the right time for the right reason," said Mark Allen, community activist.

Stroger held his veto news conference in front of a mostly approving crowd at Provident Hospital, one of the public healthcare facilities the president says would have to close if the one cent increase in the county's portion of the sales tax remains repealed.

"I will not allow county commissioners to grandstand for political advantage at the expense of the growing number of county residents who desperately need these services," said Todd Stroger, Cook County board president.

By a vote of twelve to three, with two commissioners absent, the county board commissioners repealed the increase approved just two years ago. To make the repeal vote stick, 14 commissioners would have to vote to override the president.

"I will not be supporting the president's view," said John Daley, (D) Chicago.

"I think if there say chance that there is enough outrage and public pressure put on the remaining commissioners to vote to override," said Forrest Claypool, (D) Chicago.

But Stroger, who says the county's healthcare system cannot afford to lose $245 million if the tax is repealed, declared that he has the four votes needed to sustain his veto. That extra vote might come from commissioner Deborah Sims, one of the two absentees last week.

"I'm going to make a decision based on what's best for the residents of my district," said Deborah Sims, (D) Chicago and South Suburbs.

While the state and most municipal government's collect a larger share of the sales tax, the county's one penny increase reportedly has affected retail businesses on the Cook borders.

Meanwhile, uninsured patients at public hospitals worry about the possible closure of hospitals like Provident.

"I can't afford going to another hospital because I don't have any insurance," said Sandra Harris, Provident Hospital patient.

Finally, President Stroger insisted he isn't worried that his defense of the sales tax increase might be politically suicidal.

"You know what sustains me? The truth sustains me and the truth is what we have done these last two and a half years. If you want to write about that, write about that. If you don't, you don't," said Stroger.

The attempt to override Stroger's veto is not expected until next week's board meeting.

The president said he would support a one quarter of one cent rollback in the tax made possible by receipt of federal stimulus money the it will take 14 of the 17 commissioners to override the president's veto. It's never been done before.

Some commissioners vow to override veto

On Monday, Stroger vetoed the decision by commissioners to repeal the one percentage point increase. But commissioners aren't giving up.

County commissioners ABC7 spoke with say although they're disappointed by the veto, this is far from over. If they can get just two of the five commissioners who did not vote with them last week to come to their side, they can override the veto. And they say it is possible because two commissioners weren't even present for last week's vote.

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin made a vow to fight on Monday night.

"I hope we can override this veto next Tuesday at the meeting, and if we can't then I will fight to have this phase-out be faster than he's projecting," said Suffredin, (D).

His vow came after Stroger used his veto power to block the repeal of a controversial sales tax increase that gave Cook County one of the highest tax rates in the nation.

"We know that more people need our services and that if we pull back now there will just be a lot of people without any healthcare whatsoever," said Stroger.

Peraica was one of several sponsors in favor of repealing the entire 1 percent sales tax increase right now. If they're unable to get two more votes to override the veto, there is another plan already in the works that would roll back a quarter of a percent every year for the next four years.

Sufferdin is one of the sponsors.

"It, at this time, has become the symbol of bad government. And it has become the symbol of bad economic policy for Cook County," said Sufferdin.

At least part of Suffredin's plan is something Stroger could support. He has said that he supports a roll back of a quarter of a percent. But Stroger says anything more than that would depend on the economy improving.

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