Thursday, May 7, 2009

Todd, Make up your mind!

Todd Stroger is going to get dumped on, no matter what he winds up doing with regard to an attempt to reduce the sales tax paid by people who shop in Cook County.

Stroger, the president of the Cook County Board, was absolutely correct when he denounced the actions of the county board, which earlier this week voted to repeal the sales tax that they approved last year.

WHEN THE VOTE came down (12-3, with two other county commissioners being absent), Stroger called it “political theater,” and noted that many of the political people who are now so quick to talk anti-tax were among the measure’s supporters.

So it is hypocritical for these government officials to start talking as though they are protecting the interests of the taxpayers when they sure didn’t do anything to protect those interests last year.

It’s sort of like they broke it, and now they want full credit for getting out the glue bottle to try to piece it back together.

Despite that, Stroger is the one who comes off as laughable, and not just because he doesn’t know the difference between “fertility” and “futility.”

STROGER IS THE official who responded to his colleagues’ attempt to score cheap political points for themselves by promising to use his “veto” power to prevent the tax cut from taking effect.

After all, the financial circumstances that caused county government to need the additional revenue last year are still in place. Some might argue that the struggling economy makes them just as severe now.

So there is one sense in which a “veto” would not be an irresponsible act. If Stroger would decide to play the role of hard-liner who makes the unpopular (but necessary) decisions, he might be able to gain the respect of people who are interested in good government.

He’ll never gain the respect of the people who have been bashing him about for the past couple of years – the ones who will add this debacle to the list they are compiling in their minds of reasons why we should have Anybody But Todd as county board president come the 2010 elections.

BUT STROGER MAKES himself look like a bigger fool than these people are because he can’t make up his mind.

Depending on which radio station one listened to on Wednesday, Stroger either is continuing with the hard-line or is reconsidering. He told WLS-AM during an interview that he may let the county board’s tax repeal remain in effect.

One of the problems with using politically strident rhetoric is that a government official has to take a stance, then stick by it.

If he starts flopping about to give himself wiggle room, he makes himself look indecisive. If he tries to do an about-face and change his mind, he comes off as a nitwit.

THAT IS THE position Stroger has put himself in.

As far as I’m concerned, Stroger does not deserve to be lambasted in this instance for holding the line on a tax hike. He deserves to be smacked about a bit because he’s trying to play both sides.

Now the hard-core political pundits have been making a big deal out of the fact that Mayor Richard M. Daley’s brother, John, was one of the county commissioners who voted for repealing the tax hike.

They say it is evidence that the Daley family has lost faith in Stroger, and likely will be giving its support to someone else to challenge him come the Democratic primary next year.

DALEY (THE MAYOR, not the commissioner) on Wednesday called the original act a “very questionable increase in taxes.”

Now I’m not going to say that I enjoy paying the roughly extra penny per dollar so that the county can get its share of the sales tax revenue. I know that I have a brother who occasionally crosses over into Will County when he needs to shop for something so as to avoid paying the Cook tax hike.

But I do have a problem with officials of other government entities dumping on Cook County. For the fact is that the sales tax paid by people who shop here is a collection of shares to the respective municipality, the county and the state.

To listen to Mayor Daley complain about “questionable” tax hikes makes me wonder if he’s willing to put his money where his mouth is, and consider some sort of decline in the city’s share of the sales tax (since city residents pay a higher rate than anyone in suburban Cook does).

I DOUBT HE would make that offer. Does that mean he just doesn’t think any other government entity ought to be allowed to tax, because it might make people less willing to buy things so that the city can get its share of the proceeds?

In short, I’m not stepping up in defense of Stroger in this incident. But the idea that he deserves to be singled out for blame is ridiculous. It took a whole slew of government officials to get the sales tax rate throughout Cook County as high as it currently is.

The idea that Stroger should be the lone official dumped upon is wrong.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The whole Todd Stroger vs. the County Board fight over tax hikes ( is a politically partisan (,stroger-cook-county-sales-tax-repeal-050609.article) match-up meant to make politicos look good. It has nothing to do with the good of the taxpayers.

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