Thursday, November 19, 2009

It’s all about Election Day, nothing more

It doesn’t matter whether Todd Stroger prevails in his attempt to keep in place an increase in the sales tax that Cook County government approved just over a year ago.

This is an issue that ultimately will be decided by the courts, and it is one whose primary purpose is to keep the issue of taxes in the minds of voters on that day in early February when they walk into the voter booth (although these days, it’s more like standing out in the open near a voting machine) to cast ballots for the office of county board president.

BECAUSE THE COUNTY officials were unable to resolve this issue by the end of September, it became a done deal that the increase in the county’s portion of the sales tax would remain in place for the rest of this fiscal year.

As things stand now, even if the political maneuvers are completed next month, that tax would not decline one bit until the middle of 2010 (July 1, to be exact).

So for those of you who are deluded enough to think that politicians are somehow trying to make for a merrier Christmas shopping season, forget it.

This is all about taking a vote sometime in December, so that on Feb. 2 the issue will be on the minds of voters (reinforced, of course, by many campaign advertisements that will air on television and radio between now and Election Day).

THE PEOPLE WHO want to view Stroger as the spawn of Satan (instead of John Stroger) will want to appear heroic for taking an action that will drop the sales tax from 10.25 percent (in Chicago proper) down to 9.75 percent (which is still one of the highest sales taxes in the nation).

Stroger will make himself appear to be heroic by standing up for the medical needs of the county’s lower-income portion of the population. He claims every single penny already being collected by the county is needed to maintain the county hospitals (one of which is named for his father) and health clinics.

All of the posturing that took place in recent months that came up again earlier this week when the Cook County Board held a special meeting to once again pursue this issue is about electoral politics.

That is why I became disgusted a long time ago with this whole issue. There are no “good guys” in this debate – even though everyone is anxious to portray themselves in such a manner.

THE FACT THAT one side in this partisan debate managed to get the General Assembly to pass new laws to make it easier for them to override a veto by Stroger makes me only wonder why state officials were so eager to get themselves involved in someone else’s political scrap.

If the state were serious about wanting to help bolster sales, perhaps they’d consider decreasing their share of the sales tax (since about three-fifths of that 10.25 percent sales tax goes to the state). But I would guess that state officials would claim they need every penny they can get their hands on these days – similar, in fact, to the rhetoric being used these days by Todd Stroger.

So what happens now?

With that state law change made last month, the Stroger critics are confident they will finally be able to prevail in the war of political procedures.

THEY VOTED 13-5 earlier this week to lower the county’s portion of the sales tax, and after Stroger vetoes the decrease, they probably will be able to keep at least 11 members of the county board in line to override the veto.

So the Stroger critics win? Only until Stroger follows through on his threat made this week to drag this issue into court, claiming that any change in state law cannot take effect until the new term of the county board (which would mean until the end of next year).

It is a novel argument. It may be legitimate (I’m not enough of a legal expert to be sure). Ultimately, it will be up to a judge somewhere to make the call on whether the effort being made in coming weeks to overturn the sales tax hike that Stroger sought last year is constitutional.

Even that will be subject to appeals.

SO EVEN THOUGH the people who are getting all worked up over the sales tax issue these days are only concerned about the Election Day factor (and not one day longer), this could very well wind up becoming an issue that will be resolved someday by the Illinois Supreme Court.

If it turns out that the tax remains in place until that day, we could be paying that 10.25 percent on our Chicago purchases for quite some time.


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