Preckwinkle alters promise to roll back sales tax

May 19, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Preckwinkle said Wednesday there is no way the rest of the sales tax increase could be rolled back next year. The Chicago alderman says, in the near term, Cook County will need every penny it can raise to balance its budget.

"Why would I, walking in the door, complicate an extremely difficult situation?" said Preckwinkle.

The frontrunner to become the next Cook County Board president stole the show from Mayor Daley Wednesday morning. Democratic nominee Alderman Toni Preckwinkle first revealed what she had been told by county government insiders about the huge budget deficit she could inherit in 2011.

"The conservative estimates that I was presented show a $250 million gap. And the more dire predictions are closer to $400 to $500 million," Preckwinkle said.

The loss of federal stimulus money, the struggling economy, and lost sales tax revenue caused by the repeal of one half-cent of a controversial 2008 one-penny increase in the levy will cause the deficit to explode, Preckwinkle says.

The prospects are enough to cause the Democratic candidate to delay planned action on her promise to repeal the remaining half-cent of the sales tax increase.

"I never said I was gonna do it when I walked in the door," said Preckwinkle. "I said that I thought that was irresponsible because I didn't have a good sense of what the financial conditions were."

Republican long shot Roger Keats was not surprised by Preckwinkle's sales tax repeal strategy. Keats said his budget-balancing effort would focus on cutting waste in county government.

"It's a 20 year Chicago Alderman, what did you expect?" said Keats. "We need to go through this budget line by line, bureaucrat by bureaucrat, function by function. That has not been done in Cook County in 10, 15, 20 years."

Before primary, outgoing board president Todd Stroger warned commissioners that their sales tax repeal efforts would imperil county finances. Preckwinkle was asked if she thought -- in retrospect -- repealing even half the increase was a good idea.

"I think they made the best decision they could at the time," said Preckwinkle.

Alderman Preckwinkle said in response to one question that she did not think the sales tax could be rolled back until 2012 at the earliest, if the economy and other county revenues had improved. Preckwinkle said that all of her campaign promises related to rolling back the sales tax were dependent on the county's financial condition.. She says it isn't looking good for 2011.

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