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Preckwinkle: Sales Tax Hike Necessary To Keep County Afloat

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Tuesday she will present a preliminary budget plan that includes a proposal to increase the county sales tax she spent years rolling back.

Preckwinkle told a City Club of Chicago breakfast, while facing a projected operating deficit of nearly $200 million, and a $6.5 billion pension shortfall, the county has no choice but to raise revenue.

She said she'll reconsider what the county needs, if and when the Illinois General Assembly approves her plan to overhaul the county's employee pension plans, but until then, she's pushing an 1 percentage point increase in the county's sales tax. Her office has estimated the sales tax increase would raise $308 million in revenue in 2016.

"The reason that we're raising the tax the entire 1 percent is so that we can meet our obligations, and kind of catch up, given the fact that we've waited a year for Springfield to act, and it's caused us to be $360 million further down. The longer we wait, the more unfunded obligation we incur," she said.


Preckwinkle's pension overhaul package for county workers and retirees stalled in the Illinois House this spring, in the face of staunch opposition from House Republicans.

Her plan would have raised the retirement age for county workers, increased employee contributions, and reduced benefits, but maintained compounded cost-of-living increases.

Labor unions also have opposed Preckwinkle's pension plan, calling it unconstitutional. Even Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez has argued Preckwinkle's plan violates the Illinois Constitution, because it would reduce benefits without negotiating those changes with labor unions.

"My hope is that we'll get our pension bill passed in Springfield at some point. I have no way of predicting when that will be. As a result, we're going to take the actions which are within our control. That is to raise revenues in order to meet our obligations," she said.

Preckwinkle said she's working on getting the nine votes she'll need from the Cook County Board to approve her budget plan.

Her push for a sales tax hike is a complete 180 from the platform that helped her get elected in 2010, when she pledged to eliminate what remained of a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax hike pushed through by her predecessor, Todd Stroger, in 2008.

Stroger agreed to cut that sales tax hike in half in 2009, and Preckwinkle went on to defeat him in the 2010 election, and then roll back the remaining half-penny of the tax hike by 2012.

Preckwinkle has defended her plan to bring back that sales tax hike, saying the revenue is necessary to keep county government afloat, and commissioners have no appetite for a property tax hike. She has said the sales tax hike is a "last resort" after spending five years balancing the budget without any tax increases.

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