Cook County sales tax hike idea draws mixed reviews
Three of the four suburban Cook County Board commissioners said Tuesday they are open to the possibility of raising the county's sales tax to help cover next year's budget deficit -- an early projection shows a $179 million shortfall -- plus pay a required $449 million contribution to the county's pension system.
Board President Tony Preckwinkle spoke privately with the commissioners about the idea as one of several revenue-generating options.
The only suburban commissioner to flat-out reject hiking the sales tax was Tim Schneider, of Bartlett. He said an increase would hurt the people of suburban Cook County and retailers on the county border.
"It would be damaging to the retail environment and could cut property tax revenues from empty storefronts," said Schneider, whose district borders both DuPage and Kane counties. "I told (Preckwinkle) I needed to see what we were doing to curb expenses before I would even look at revenues."
However, the other three suburban county commissioners -- Gregg Goslin of Glenview, Liz Gorman of Orland Park and Peter Silvestri of Elmwood Park -- all said they're willing to keep an open mind about the idea.
"There are so many considerations, and this is so early in the process. I'm not committed to anything," Gorman said.
The sales tax now is 8 percent in unincorporated Cook County. The county gets 0.75 percent, the Regional Transportation Authority gets 1 percent, and Illinois gets 6.25 percent. Many suburbs have additional sales taxes, and Chicago has a 1.25 percent sales tax.
Suburban commissioners said Preckwinkle's administration has done a good job of reform and budget-cutting, which gives the sales tax hike idea more credibility than when former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger pushed one through without significant spending cuts or reforms.
Other "nickel and dime" taxes like hotel and entertainment taxes are also under consideration by the county, commissioners said. The only tax increase not being considered is a property tax increase, Silvestri said.
A vote to increase the sales tax would require a majority vote, or nine of the 17 commissioners. The budget approval deadline is Dec. 1.
Silvestri said it'll probably boil down to a mixture of cutting expenses and raising revenues.
"It's going to be a difficult process and a challenging process," Silvestri said. "I'm not committed either way at this point. I'm generally opposed to these types of taxes, but I'm also a realist."