Why I won’t vote for a Cook County Sales Tax Hike

Letters to Editors

From: Cook County Board Commissioner Bridget Gainer (10th District)

Yesterday, a 1% sales tax increase was introduced during the Cook County Board meeting to plug a growing budget deficit. Under strong management, the County has made strides in the last several years, under strong management, to provide a just safety net, with a focus on fairness and safety within our criminal justice and health care systems. I am proud to have been a part of that evolution.

But there is more that can and should be done and before we raise taxes. This is the time to really consider taking on some of the sacred cows of County government. It is equally important to keep up the pressure to pass pension reform. As Chair of the County’s Pension Committee I can attest to the fact that we should not balance our budget without reform. The good news is that we have that reform plan – supported by Labor, the Civic Federation and actuaries.

Passing the tax now takes the pressure off those hard decisions. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to discuss the issues with the Tribune and I would like to share the Op-Ed that ran in today’s paper.

Cook County Commissioner – Tenth District
Chairman, Cook County Workforce, Housing & Community Development Committee
Chairman, Cook County Pension Committee
Chairman, Cook County Land Bank Authority
“Why I’m not voting for a Cook County Sales Tax Hike”
By: Bridget Gainer
July 3 2015

In the next few weeks the Cook County Board will be asked to vote to increase the county sales tax. I will vote no. The sales tax is regressive and a penalty to the poor. It punishes businesses on the edge of Cook County and pushes consumers to buy goods on the Internet.

Don’t get me wrong, the county has a serious budget and pension cost gap, predicted to be $479 million. The proposed 1 percentage point increase in the sales tax would raise some $474 million annually.

Preckwinkle proposes a 10.25% sales tax for Cook County, which would return an extra $473 million in revenue to the county.

But $130 million of the deficit goes away with pension reform. An additional $50 million in savings has already been identified by the budget staff. Yet another $50 million is in reach if we are finally willing to consolidate our redundant taxing bodies and duplicative services.

So how would we meet our financial needs? Step by step, we can do this. One of those steps is the worst-kept secret in government. For decades, Cook County reformers have asked: Why does the county have so many separate taxing bodies? Why do we have a Cook County sheriff’s police force and a Forest Preserves police department? Mosquito abatement districts? Two election agencies? Combining costly, redundant offices could save $50 million.

That’s $50 million we don’t need to collect in sales tax from county taxpayers.

As chair of the County Board’s Pension Committee, let me be yet another elected official to implore Gov. Bruce Rauner to support the Cook County pension reform proposal. It is a model for how the state budget crisis can be solved because it is backed with union support and actuarial math. Our workforce and unions did not sit back and wait for taxpayers to solve our pension problem. We came together and everyone gave something to gain solvency. Passing pension reform now would reduce the amount the county would have to increase the sales tax by $130 million a year. That’s $130 million that can stay in taxpayers’ pockets.

So I will oppose the sales tax increase. Not because I am opposed to new revenue, or because I think government is the problem. I believe government is vital to take on some of the hardest jobs we have. Just ask the correctional officers at Cook County Jail or the nurses at Stroger Hospital. But residents throughout the county are bracing as their state and local governments swim in red ink.

Before we ask our taxpayers for more, let’s make sure we’ve done everything we can to make county government work for all of us.