Looks like Cook County residents are going to have to grin, bear it, and pay.
County commissioners failed today in their effort to override Board President Todd Stroger's veto of a penny sales tax repeal. And when they immediately passed a three-quarter cent rollback, Stroger vowed to veto that as well.
"It has to be responsible," said Stroger. "We have to know that we won't be putting ourselves in a hole where we don't know where the government is going to go."
The debate on Stroger's veto raged for hours, with commissioners opposed to the sales tax hike declaring that it was driving businesses and jobs out of Cook County. Those in favor of the tax said the quality of health care was at stake.
"Even though it does not apply to food and medicine, it applies to everything else a family needs to buy," said Commissioner Tony Peraica, an opponent of the penny increase. "The last thing the taxpayers of Cook County need, on top of all the other proposed tax increases by the city and state, is for this sales tax to remain."
Commissioner Forrest Claypool, a potential candidate for board president, declared that Stroger was trying to preserve the tax hike, in lieu of cutting relatives and favor seekers in county positions, which he called "a political playground for ward bosses throughout this county."
"It's not about service for poor people," Claypool said. "It's not about health care. It's about serving the politicians who put 'em here, and want to keep the game going, want to keep the gravy train going; that's what this fight is all about!"
Even commissioner John Daley, often a voice of moderation on the board, urged that his colleagues override Stroger's veto. "We don't even have a hiring freeze today," said Daley. "85 percent of our budget is personnel!"
But in the end, a cadre of loyal allies gave Stroger the votes he needed.
Commissioner Robert Steele warned of a potential swine flu epidemic if the County was unable to provide adequate health care. "It will hit the high rises, the low rises, and the no rises," he declared.
Commissioner Deborah Sims said any jobs lost in Cook County were not Stroger's fault. "You didn't make them lose their jobs," she said. "The economy happened! This is about the haves and the have nots!"
Commissioners fell three votes short in their effort to override the veto. Fourteen of the 17 commissioners were needed for override, but only 11 commissioners voted in favor, with four voting against, and two voting present. Click to see how they voted.
Immediately after, commissioner Elizabeth Gorman proposed rolling the sales tax back by three quarters of a penny, followed a year later by the final quarter cent. The measure passed, but Stroger vowed to veto that rollback as well.
After Stroger promised to veto the second tax cut, NBCChicago contacted Peraica on Twitter. He said, "We will continue our fight to defeat the $400M Stroger Tax on behalf of the county taxpayers until we prevail ... taxpayers MUST weigh in NOW."
Other commissioners echoed the statement.
"That's the end game here," Claypool declared. "What can we get passed and get past a Stroger veto? That's what we're all about!"