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County Board Set To Vote On Preckwinkle’s Budget

The budget plan includes an $11 million in the county tax on beer, wine and hard liquor
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County Board Room

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle addresses commissioners in the County Board room. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 11/18/11 11:09 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — The Cook County Board on Friday was holding a special meeting to vote on President Toni Preckwinkle’s 2012 budget.

As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, the $2.9 billion budget calls for several new tax hikes, fees and deep cuts to close a $315 million shortfall. Commissioners were deliberating on the budget as of 11 a.m.

Earlier Friday morning, an important amendment was made to the budget that brought one mother to tears.

“We’re here to announce that we’re restoring $4.5 million in funding for the State’s Attorney’s office and the Public Defender’s office,” Preckwinkle said.

This will restore 76 positions that are considered essential to insuring public safety in Cook County, including the Victims’ Assistance Program. Myrna Roman used the program after her son was murdered two years ago.

“Thank you so much,” Roman said tearfully, “because it really, really means a lot to us when we go to these courtrooms and we have to face the accusers’ families. It’s such a scary feeling, and you have to have someone from the outside, who’s an expert at this, helping us with this is. We can’t do it by ourselves.”

But this is one silver lining to a budget that includes plenty of pain.

The budget plan includes an $11 million in the county tax on beer, wine and hard liquor. Asked how much of a price hike that would mean for the average domestic draft at a bar, Harvey bar owner Larry Stevens said, “I’ll probably go about 50 cents.”

The alcohol tax hike was approved by the County Board Finance Committee earlier this week by a vote of 12-5. Commissioner John Fritchey (D-12th), who was one of those who voted against the alcohol tax hike, had been pushing to make the tax hike temporary and eliminating it if and when the city adopts an ordinance decriminalizing small-time marijuana possession cases.

Taxes on tobacco will also go up in the budget. Currently, a county tax is imposed on rolled cigarettes, but not loose tobacco or chewing tobacco. Preckwinkle says the tax should be the same for all such products.

The new budget will also mean a new charge for parking in courthouse garages that are now free. The county will begin charging $4.75 for parking at the garages and lots at the Criminal Courthouse at 26th and California, as well as the suburban courthouses at Skokie, Rolling Meadows, Maywood, Bridgeview and Markham, although jurors and law enforcement officers may still park for free.

Another proposed tax would take a bite out of car or boat buyers who use sites such as Craigslist, or even purchase their cars from a neighbor. All of those buyers would be subject to a 1 percent title transfer tax, which the county says would raise $8.5 million in revenue.

In addition, the budget calls for residents of unincorporated suburban Cook County to pay up for police protection provided by the Cook County sheriff’s office.

Commissioners emphasize that revenue is necessary for the county government to carry out its duties.

“Unfortunately, the mission is to provide the hospital services for the less fortunate or the indigent, and as well, the public safety, and those have to be paid by public dollars,” said Commissioner Edwin Reyes (D-8th.)

The budget also includes the layoffs of about 1,000 employees.

The budget vote is coming early compared with many past years. Under the late John H. Stroger Jr. and his son, Todd Stroger, the budget vote usually came in late February, and sometimes involved meetings that ran until midnight as commissioners engaged in protracted fights over whether to balance the budget with cuts or new tax revenue.

State law requires the county to pass a balanced budget by the end of February.

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