SPRINGFIELD - Cook County's widely reviled sales tax increase would be rolled back and future hikes restricted under a plan that narrowly passed an Illinois House committee Thursday.
As proposed, lawmakers would undo the 1 percentage point increase the Cook County Board approved last year and force the board to go to voters if members want to reinstate it.
Suburban Cook County lawmakers of both parties have been calling for the rollback as the tax increase pushed by County Board President Todd Stroger has riled suburban officials, businesses and taxpayers who see shoppers flocking to neighboring retailers where taxes are lower.
The House Executive Committee, which is controlled by Democrats, approved the rollback 6-5, sending it on to the full House. Its future there, however, is politically dubious.
State Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, said he voted to advance the plan out of the committee not because he thinks it's a good idea - he doesn't - but because he thinks it deserves a full debate. As for his opposition, Lang said he supports letting local governments make their own decisions.
Since the proposal forces Cook County - which is a self-governing entity - to do something, it's likely to require additional votes to become law. Most plans need 60 votes in the 118-member House for approval. This plan is likely to require 71 "yes" votes.
"Here's our challenge," said state Rep. Paul Froehlich, a Schaumburg Democrat and sponsor of one of the rollback proposals. "My guess is there's a majority. Whether there's a three-fifths majority, that's another question."
State Rep. Sidney Mathias, a Buffalo Grove Republican also pushing rollback plans, said he never thought Democrats would let the plan see the light of day, let alone pass a committee.
"I guess nothing surprises me anymore around here," Mathias said.
Cook County officials painted dire economic consequences if the tax is removed, saying one of the county's hospitals would likely close without the tax revenue.
Just last week, House Democratic leadership blocked efforts to bring the rollback plan to a vote and a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan said he'd yet to hear Republicans suggest how to pay for the county hospital, jail and other "non-glamorous" services that the tax money supports.