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Cook County Budget Crisis Looms

By Kevin Robinson in News on Feb 28, 2008 4:12PM

With Friday's budget deadline looming for Cook County, Todd Stroger is finding himself in a very uncomfortable position. Stroger has been pushing to raise the county sales tax to 2 percent from .75 percent, a proposal that was taken off the table by commissioners Monday in hopes that they could find a compromise to fund county services without the hike.

2008_2_cook_county.GIFThe majority of the county board wants to cut spending, preferring to pass only a balanced budget for this year, while Stroger's proposed tax hike would create a surplus of revenue for several years. Commissioner John Daley, a Stroger ally, indicated to the Sun-Times that part of Stroger's motivation for raising the county sales tax now is so that he doesn't have to keep coming back for increases in succeeding years - including 2010, when he is up for re-election.

The board also voted to withdraw four new taxes and the expansion of a fifth tax proposed by commissioner Roberto Maldonado, who has said that he would support a quarter-percent sales tax increase if Stroger would back his proposals. Stroger has said that he won't compromise on the increase, but that he can't round up the nine votes he needs to pass it. "There's no support for the sales tax, as it is now," Daley told the Tribune. He also said that 18 percent, across-the-board cuts from the $3.2 billion proposed budget would be considered to cover a shortfall projected at around $300 million. Commissioner Tony Peraica has suggested that without the 1,100 new hires Stroger is proposing, the budget shortfall will only be around $150 million, a deficit that could be reduced through cuts. "The government will not shut down," Peraica told the Tribune. "That is another scare tactic."

The county is legally required to adopt a balanced budget by Feb. 29.