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Cook commissioner says he'll oppose sales tax hike
By Rob Olmstead | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 10/10/2007 12:01 AM

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Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's challenge in passing a sales tax increase got a little harder Monday when a commissioner who had been on the fence announced he will oppose it.

"I will be voting 'no' on any sales tax," said Larry Suffredin, an Evanston Democrat.

Suffredin previously said he could not vote on the issue because of a conflict of interest due to his lobbying work for the Illinois Restaurant Association. Suffredin had the Cook County state's attorney deliver an opinion on whether he could vote, and the state's attorney said he could not, Suffredin said.

But after investigating the opinion further, Suffredin -- a lawyer himself -- said he found the Cook opinion was not applicable to his situation.

"The opinion they gave me was related to a restaurant sales tax, not a (general) sales tax," he said.

Pat Driscoll, head of the state's attorney's civil bureau, agreed that distinction was accurate. The office has not reached a conclusion as to whether there would still be conflict with a general sales tax, and it may not go ahead in its research of that question if Suffredin has already made up his mind, Driscoll said.

Suffredin, coincidentally, is running for Cook County state's attorney and had been criticized by some for not voting "no" on the sales tax hike. Suffredin said he was merely obeying the law.

The proposal is to raise the Cook County sales tax from 0.75 percent to 2.75 percent.

Suffredin had expressed opposition to the 2 percentage-point increase, but had expressed an openness to perhaps a lower increase.

No longer.

Suffredin said that possibility ended with news of the administration giving a job to the girlfriend of Commissioner Bill Beavers -- Todd Stroger's chief ally on the board.

"I am just shocked that while we were meeting last week (to consider raising taxes) that they were hiring Beavers' girlfriend," Suffredin said.

After the Chicago Sun-Times inquired about the case, the administration let the woman go -- just two days after hiring her.

Suffredin did still leave open the possibility that he will support some other tax to cover the $113 million more in expenditures he voted for by giving state's attorneys and public defenders cost-of-living salary increases.

With Suffredin opposed to a sales tax, Stroger must now woo Commissioner Roberto Maldonado, who is angry with Stroger's chief of staff, Lance Tyson, for threatening to kill a pro-immigrant measure Maldonado succeeded in passing. Tyson did not deny the threat.

To pass the sales tax, Stroger also needs the vote of Commissioner Earlean Collins, who has been non-committal about the sales tax, but said she supports some form of revenue increase.

Northwest suburban Commissioners Tim Schneider, Gregg Goslin and Liz Gorman all oppose the sales tax hike.