Legislators take on Cook veto-override issue

  • State Sen. Dan Kotowski

    State Sen. Dan Kotowski

  • State Rep. Julie Hamos

    State Rep. Julie Hamos Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Published: 9/8/2009 4:44 PM | Updated: 9/8/2009 4:44 PM

Two suburban state lawmakers want to cut the number of votes needed to override a Cook County Board presidential veto.

State Sen. Dan Kotowski and state Rep. Julie Hamos said they'll push for passage of a law to do so during the General Assembly's fall veto session next month.

Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat, said the current 4/5ths majority required for an override needs to be loosened up.

"This rule is obsolete, it's unfair, it's undemocratic. It is not in the public's interest, and it needs to be changed immediately," he said.

Kotowski and Hamos, along with Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a 115-year-old nonpartisan government watchdog agency, all cited last week's failure to override Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's veto of a county sales tax cut for drawing attention to the issue.

Although Hamos, an Evanston Democrat, said she was out to provide "sales-tax relief for Cook County consumers," and Msall called the 1 percent increase imposed last year "unnecessary" and "unsubstantiated," all insisted they were not interfering in the county board's business, but were simply out to "right a wrong."

Kotowski said the 13-4 tally that fell a vote short to cut the 1.75 Cook County sales tax a half-penny on the dollar actually was supported by 76 percent of the commissioners.

Hamos said that with the uneven number of Cook County commissioners, the 14 votes required for an override are actually 82 percent of the total board. Msall said the "supermajority" requirement placed "superpower in the president's office."

And Hamos added, "This has in fact created and perpetuated one-man rule."

Kotowski used the 3/5ths majority required for an override in Congress and the General Assembly as a measuring stick.

"The Cook County Board president should not have greater power over the county than the president of the United States has over the country," Kotowski said. "We're talking about a consistency in government across the board."

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, an Evanston Democrat, said last week he would support a change in the veto requirement to a 3/5ths majority. The 4/5ths requirement, he said, dated back to the 1870s, when there were 15 commissioners on the board: 10 from the city and five from the suburbs. The 4/5ths measure was instituted to insure that at least one suburban commissioner needed to join the 10 from the city to override a veto, thus preventing the city from lording over the suburbs. But that also placed considerable power in the hands of the president.

With the 17 districts now all over, with many straddling both the city and the suburbs, Hamos called the old law "completely obsolete."

Kotowski's proposal passed unanimously in the Senate earlier this year, but bogged down in the House Rules Committee, Hamos said, without the active support of Speaker Michael Madigan.

Hamos said she was taking over House sponsorship from state Rep. Paul Froehlich, a Schaumburg Democrat, in hopes of getting action on it. "I'm an organizer at heart," she said. "So I'm going to spend the next five weeks organizing around this."

"I feel really good about the bill's chances in the House," Kotowski added, "because Rep. Hamos is taking the lead on this, and she has a history of taking on challenging issues of this nature and getting them passed."

The new legislation being proposed this fall would take effect immediately. "This is an issue where we cannot afford to wait," Kotowski said. "Our constituents are calling for action throughout the county."

But it would still be too late to get a cut in the sales tax in time to start 2010, as it would miss an Oct. 1 deadline for it to be imposed for the new year.