Stroger vetoes reduction of county sales tax

November 23, 2009 (CHICAGO) Stroger says a rollback will bring severe cuts in county health care services. But some commissioners disagree, and this time they may have the votes to override the veto.

The rules have changed this time. Overriding a veto in Cook County used to require a four-fifths vote of the board, but state lawmakers voted to change that to three-fifths which is in keeping with most legislative bodies.

It means that Todd Stroger will have to change a couple minds on the tax rollback issue, or his veto will fail.

Outside the front door of the hospital that bears his father's name, Todd Stroger today vetoed the county board's sales tax rollback. "As county board president, I refuse to stand idle while opposition commissioners continue to decimate the system," said Stroger.

Rolling back the county sales tax by a half-penny-on-the-dollar, as the county board has voted to do, would irreparably damage Cook County's health care system, according to Stroger and others who shared the microphone at his veto signing.

"You're playing with patients lives and I am here to say stop it," said Dorothy Ahmad R.N., Stroger Hospital nurse.

The direct warning here is that the sales tax rollback could lead to the closure of the county's Provident and Oak Forest hospitals, and perhaps some clinic operations. But does "could close" mean that they will close? Is the board president certain of that?

"There is no way the hospital system can stay open as it is today," said Stroger.

"We passed a budget this week. There's a budget intact and none of those cuts are in the budget," said Elizabeth Gorman, Cook County commissioner.

Republican Commissioner Gorman says the board president is using scare tactics. Closing county health facilities is not part of the plan.

Three times before Stroger has vetoed the sales tax rollback plan, and three times his veto has withstood challenge.

But a recent change in state law now means that only 11 votes are needed to override a veto. Last week, there were 12 votes in favor of the rollback, and unless there are defections, the sales tax roll back will happen.

"All the commissioners up for election or reelection know they'll commit political suicide if they continue this sales tax in place as it is," said Tony Peraica, Cook County commissioner.

On Monday, Stroger named three Democratic commissioners he wants on his side to preserve the veto. One of them is Edwin Reyes who is brand new to the board and voted for the sales tax rollback. Reyes is not inclined to change his mind telling ABC7 that he's talked to a lot of his constituents and not one of them is in favor of maintaining the sales tax as it is, and says R eyes, "Ihave to respond to my constituents."

The board is expected to vote on the override next week.

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