Cook County Rolls Back Sales Tax

Published December 15, 2009

On the fourth try, the Cook County, Illinois board of commissioners successfully reduced the county’s retail sales tax, which applies in Chicago and surrounding suburbs and unincorporated areas of the county.

The county portion of the sales tax is now set to fall from 1.75 percent to 1.25 percent on July 1. Consumers are expected to save about $195 million a year in lower sales tax payments.

Twelve of the 17 commissioners voted to override the veto of Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, who fought to preserve the sales tax and proclaimed, “Some people will die needlessly for lack of access to the health care our system provides today.”

Stroger had repeatedly claimed cutting the sales tax would destroy the county health care system.
Law Change Aided Vote
This override effort was made easier by a November change in an Illinois state law that lowered the number of votes needed to override a veto from 14 to 11. Three past override attempts under the old law were unsuccessful.

Stroger lashed out at the media after the vote.

“I see this vote as a culmination of the press over the past three years trying to bury the Stroger administration,” he said.

One year earlier a majority of the County Board had voted to raise the Cook County portion of the sales tax a full penny, from .75 to 1.75 percent. That increase, combined with the state sales tax, Chicago sales tax, and a Regional Transportation Authority sales tax, put the total retail sales tax rate in Chicago at 10.25 percent, highest in the nation.

Communities in neighboring counties had at least a two percentage-point sales tax advantage, prompting a secession movement in Cook County bordering communities.

‘Should Have Proposed Cuts’
“I am excited that we have once again represented the best interests of the people of Cook County and rolled backed half of Stroger’s 1 percent sales tax hike,” Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman (R-Orland Park) said after the override vote. “Instead of increasing the sales tax, which is considered the most regressive form of taxation because it undermines the economy, Stroger should have proposed cuts in his administration and pushed office holders to embrace economic belt tightening.”

She added, “Every citizen of Cook County has been forced by the economy to cut back. We need to consolidate offices, restructure, and reform Cook County before going to the business community to bail out mismanagement of county government.”

John W. Skorburg ([email protected]) is associate editor of Budget & Tax News and a policy advisor to the Heartland Institute.