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CHICAGO (CBS) — Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Wednesday that even with hikes in some taxes and fees in her 2012 budget plan, county residents are saving $400 million with the rollback of the infamous 2008 sales tax hike.
The budget plan calls for higher taxes on alcohol, tobacco, cars and boats, and also calls for residents of unincorporated suburban Cook County to pay up for police protection provided by the Cook County sheriff’s office. In addition, the county would begin charging $4.75 for parking at the garages and lots at its six criminal courthouses.
The plan also calls for 1,000 layoffs in county government, all to make up for a $315 million shortfall.
On the CBS 2 Morning News Wednesday, Preckwinkle emphasized that the budget is smaller than last year – $2.9 billion compared with $3.1 billion – and that ultimately, taxpayers will be saving money as the county rolls back the infamous tax hike approved under former County Board President Todd Stroger.
“Half a percent was repealed before I got in office, and we made a commitment to repeal a quarter of a percent in 2012 and a quarter of a percent in 2013. The total savings for the people of Cook County is $400 million, and what we’ve proposed (in the budget) is pretty modest increases of $25 million,” she said. “So what you have to weigh out is the $400 million in savings versus the $25 million.”
Furthermore, Preckwinkle said, many of the tax and fee hikes are about fairness and closing loopholes, rather than raising taxes just for the sake of increased revenue. One of those loopholes has to do with tobacco products.
“On the cigarettes for example – you pay taxes on rolled cigarettes, but if you buy loose tobacco or chewing tobacco, you don’t pay a tax, so we’re saying you should pay a tax on loose tobacco, the same as you pay a tax on cigarettes,” she said.
As for residents of unincorporated Cook County, Preckwinkle said it’s only fair that they pay for their police service.
“We’ve asked the people in unincorporated Cook County – this is 100,000 people out of 5.3 million – who get their police services, presently, for free. The rest of us pay for their police services, so it’s a double tax on everybody else in the county. You pay for your own municipal police services if you’re in Chicago, or Schaumburg, or Calumet City, or Oak Park, or Evanston, and then on top of that, you pay for the police services in unincorporated Cook County,” she said. “We think that those people should pay for their police services.”
“On alcohol, it’s a very modest increase in taxes and it’s paid by wholesalers and distributors.”
Preckwinkle’s budget also calls for reducing the county jail population by 1,000 inmates, saving $5 million. She emphasized Wednesday that only nonviolent offenders would be eligible.
“Seventy percent of the people in our jail are there for nonviolent offenses – low-level drug offenses, shoplifting, prostitution – the kinds of things people to do get quick money for drugs. We’ve got a real substance abuse problem in this country, and we’re dealing with it by criminalizing people instead of looking at it as a public health issue,” she said.
The offenders who would be released would be subjected to such measures as recognizance bonds and electronic monitoring, she said.
Preckwinkle has been a strong critic of the War on Drugs. She declared earlier this year that the policy had failed, and has spoken directly with police Supt. Garry McCarthy ending low-level marijuana arrests in the city.
The new fiscal year begins on Dec. 1. State law requires the county to pass a balanced budget by Feb. 1 each year.