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Cook County To Repeal Sales Tax Hike By 2013

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(Credit: CBS)

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Updated 02/25/11 – 5:17 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – The Cook County Board has voted to repeal what remains of an infamous 2008 sales tax hike over the next two years.

The board voted 12-5 Friday morning to repeal the remaining half of the sales tax hike by 2013. The county’s sales tax rate will drop by a quarter cent on the dollar on Jan. 1, 2012 and another quarter cent on the dollar on Jan. 1, 2013.

By then the tax in Chicago will have been rolled back to 9.25 percent.

Civic Federation president Laurence Msall praised the move, saying “It will allow the county and it will allow people to get over, as we go forward, this stigma of having the highest sales tax in the United States.”

As CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports, the move also fulfills a campaign promise from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who had said she would eliminate the rest of the sales tax hike during her first term.

“We were very pleased because I promised in my inaugural address and my budget address that we would roll back the remainder half a percent of the sales tax increase that was enacted in October of 2008,” Preckwinkle said.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780 Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

In 2008, then-County Board President Todd Stroger passed a 1 percent hike in the county sales tax to balance the budget. The hike brought the sales tax in Chicago to the highest level in the country at 10.25 percent.

The board attempted to roll back all or part of the tax hike three times, but the first two times resulted in vetoes by Stroger. In December 2009, the board finally succeeded in cutting the tax hike in half to 0.5 percent, after state law lowered the number of commissioners required to override a veto.

Friday’s vote would eliminate the remainder of that tax hike.

The five commissioners who voted against repealing the tax hike were: Earlean Collins (D-1st), Robert Steele (D-2nd), William Beavers (D-4th), Deborah Sims (D-5th), and Joan Murphy (D-6th). Except Steele, all five were Stroger allies when Stroger was board president.

Beavers said repealing the sales tax hike might have a cost in human lives, citing decisions to shut down emergency room operations at the county’s Oak Forest and Provident hospitals.

“Lives are always at stake when you close down emergency services. You know, they’re not taking in ambulances,” Beavers said.

But Preckwinkle disagreed that the changes at Provident and Oak Forest had anything to do with the move to repeal the sales tax.

“There’s an independent governing board of the health care system. I’m not a health care professional and neither is Commissioner Beavers. And the changes that they’re proposing in our health care system reflect their professional judgments about how we ought to deliver quality care to the people of Cook County,” Preckwinkle said.

The county has been working on a long-term plan to shift the focus at Provident and Oak Forest hospitals to providing outpatient services, with the hospitals serving as primary care centers.

But Preckwinkle’s plans to cut the county budget will result in layoffs. In all, more than 1,300 county workers are expected to lose their jobs under Preckwinkle’s budget proposal.

“I never expected to walk into this job and to be recommending significant layoffs and that’s been the most painful part of this government,” Preckwinkle said. “But my obligation is to provide a balanced budget and we’ve done that, difficult though it’s been.”

That pain was in part tempered by passage of the tax rollback and the promised relief that will come to city residents like Lynne Taylor, who was car shopping at McCarthy Ford on Chicago’s South Side on Friday.

“I’m ecstatic. I’m very happy,” Taylor said of the tax rollback.

Ray LeFevour, manager of McCarthy Ford, said anything that keeps the customers happy is ultimately good for his store’s bottom line.

“On most car purchases today, people gasp at the amount of sales taxes that are presented in front of them, so it’s always an issue,” LeFevour said.

The deeply unpopular sales tax hike drove northwest suburban Palatine to talk about leaving Cook County, either to join Lake County or to form its own county.

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