Stroger tax could be easier to undo

Published: 10/30/2009 12:01 AM

SPRINGFIELD - Illinois lawmakers gave final approval to a plan that would make it easier to cast aside the Cook County Board's vetoes, a move pushed in hopes of rolling back a much-maligned county sales tax.

The Illinois Senate voted 48-1 to send to the governor a law that would require three-fifths support on the Cook County Board to overturn a board president's veto. Currently the action requires a politically impossible four-fifths vote.

"It's a matter of fairness," said state Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat who sponsored the proposal in the Senate.

Overriding a governor or the president requires a three-fifths vote.

Changing the vote requirements gained momentum after Cook County raised its sales tax, making the total tax one of the nation's highest. There have been repeated attempts to roll that tax increase back, but they've been vetoed by county board President Todd Stroger. Attempts to override those vetoes have come up short under the four-fifths requirement.

State Rep. Mark Walker, an Arlington Heights Democrat who sponsored the plan in the House, said the law would be a "historic change" to the way Cook County conducts business in the long term.

But some lawmakers said the state - which is several billion dollars in the red - shouldn't be telling Cook County how to balance its budget. Although only one senator - Quad-Cities Democrat Mike Jacobs - voted "no," another eight voted "present," a way to withhold support without officially voting "no." Jacobs said he doesn't know much about Stroger but was troubled by state lawmakers seemingly targeting one person with the law.

Stroger has estimated a repeal of the sales tax could blow a $400 million hole in the county budget, while critics say that every day it's in place, businesses and shoppers flee Cook County.

Ironically, the extreme four-fifths majority was first instituted to ensure the suburbs would have a say in such matters. The margin assured that, on a then-smaller county board, at least one suburban commissioner would need to join those from the city to override a veto. But now many of the 17 districts include both city and suburban territory.

The proposed law now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk. He's said before he supports it.