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Woodstock lawmaker wants out on transit sales tax deal
By Nick Shields | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 2/29/2008 12:06 AM

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SPRINGFIELD -- A McHenry County lawmaker drew the ire of his colleagues Thursday by pushing legislation that would let suburban counties opt out of part of the sales tax deal that ultimately bailed out the region's transit agencies.

State. Rep. Jack Franks, a Woodstock Democrat and a critic of the transit deal, said the General Assembly set a dangerous precedent by not allowing the counties to have a say on the sales tax increase.

"When we passed that bill we did something unique, we increased sales taxes on local counties without local county input," Franks said during a House Mass Transit Committee hearing. "To the best of my knowledge, that's never been done before in the history of the state of Illinois."

However, the regional sales tax increase averted route cuts and fare hikes and came after intense political negotiation, arm-twisting and several special sessions. Those involved in crafting the final deal let it be known they didn't appreciate Franks' trying to undo it.

Evanston Democratic state Rep. Julie Hamos was the architect of the transit deal. She noted that Franks voted against it, continues to criticize it and, "you're asking us now to do sort of a political favor for you."

Faced with sure rejection, Franks chose not to put his proposal to a committee vote at Thursday's meeting.

In mid-January, lawmakers avoided a transportation "doomsday" by hiking sales taxes in Cook and the suburban counties by a quarter percentage point. McHenry, DuPage, Lake, Kane and Will counties also received another quarter-point increase to spend on transportation projects or public safety. That provision garnered suburban support and helped the final deal win approval.

Franks' legislation would allow counties to decide if they want that second sales tax for transportation projects or public safety. Franks said he would retool the proposal to include only McHenry County.