Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Cook County Tax Cut Fails, Carol Marin Misses the Point

The Cook County Board of Commissioners voted on September 1 to maintain its obscenely high tax rate. This is not only bad for the taxpayers of Cook County (which includes Chicago), it is especially bad for already-dim political future of Cook County President Todd Stroger. Although Stroger "won" the vote, it only highlights his diminishing lack of support. Strangely, notable writer Carol Marin completely misunderstands the reality and implications of the vote.

The Chicago Sun-Times noted on Sept. 1:

A year ago, a majority of commissioners passed a penny-on-the-dollar hike, pushing Chicago's overall sales tax to 10.25 percent, the highest big-city tax rate in the country. (Source)

Over the past year, some commissioners have argued for a roll-back of the hike. Indeed, as the Sun-Times also reported, Commissioner Deborah Sims (D-5) was among those calling for the cut. She flipped at the last minute, causing many to wonder Board President Todd Stroger made a deal with her. Again, from the Sun-Times:

Until Tuesday, Sims was among the 14 commissioners -- the required four-fifths majority -- lined up to override Stroger's veto of the proposed half-penny rollback. But she jumped ship and the measure failed 13-4, sending the board and Stroger into an election season with the sales tax hike on their back.

One of the four to vote in favor of the rollback is Commissioner Tony Peraica (R-16). Peraica has long been a proponent of lower taxes and has a reputation as a fierce reformer. He used his one of his web sites to issue a scathing condemnation of the vote - and of Commissioner Sims:

“Shame on those commissioners who upheld Stroger’s veto - - especially Commissioner Sims, who flipped her position to become the deciding vote in support of this tax," wrote Peraica. "With portions of our county having the highest tax rate in the country, it’s no wonder that our local economy is suffering so badly. Who in his or her right mind would want to make the situation worse?" 

(Also see "Tony Peraica Talks Tough," part of Chicago News Bench series of interviews with him.)

Voters in Cook County have a bigger question to ask themselves: Who in their right mind would want to maintain our bad situation by re-electing Todd Stroger? There are several candidates vying for the Democrat nomination, and word on the street is that the local Democrat Party is none too eager to endorse Stroger. With intelligent, well-spoken competitors such as US Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) and Chicago Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, Stroger's chances of keeping his job seem dim. Talk to people on the street - anywhere in Chicago or Cook County, regardless of ethnicity or socio-economic situation.

I take issue with an op-ed by Carol Marin in the Sun-Times on Sept. 2:

Todd Stroger's win is no small deal. He proved he's someone to be reckoned with. And that his victory, even in the face of terrible Cook County unemployment, high foreclosures, and consumer flight to collar counties with lower sales taxes, is something to sit back and study.

Marin, who I generally respect as an investigative reporter, got it spectacularly wrong in my opinion. She's right to say that Stroger has "proved he's someone to be reckoned with," but any board president is simply by having the power of the office. What Marin doesn't seem to understand is that yesterday's 13-4 vote actually highlights Stroger's weakness: A lack of majority support on the Board of Commissioners. Marin seems impressed by the overall effect of the vote, not taking into account the low pro-Stroger factor. Outside of the halls of Cook County government, Stroger is widely considered to be a bad joke, a fool, a high taxer, and a usurper of power.

Sure, Stroger managed (by only one vote) to maintain his tax hike. Marin, however, seems to discount the glaring fact of the 13-4 vote. Stroger received less than 24 percent of the votes cast. That's "someone to be reckoned with?" Not by most people's standards, except apparently, Carol Marin's. It was only because of the undemocratic, artificially high requirement of a four-fifths majority (80 percent) to overturn Stroger's veto of the rollback that Stroger "won." It was a win by technicality. It was not a win in absolute votes cast. Marin seems impressed that Stroger managed to get a mere four votes in his favor, against 13 opposed. It is puzzling that someone as bright as Carol Marin would miss that aspect of the story, as a well as missing the feelings of Cook County voters.

The vote - and Stroger's mismanagement, string of scandals, and general foolishness - is not lost on the voters, however. They will hold the high tax rate of Cook County against Stroger in the coming election, and when Stroger loses (my prediction), it will prove that Stroger is no longer "someone to be reckoned with." I respectfully suggest that Carol Marin talk to voters, then rewrite her column.

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