The Cook County Board of Commissioners’ sudden repeal of a 1 percent sales tax hike was not simply about reversing a controversial policy. The repeal, unexpectedly introduced at a May 5 board meeting and passed by a 12-3 vote, is also about cold political calculations.
And one of Forest Park’s county commissioners could figure mightily in the equation.
Board President Todd Stroger announced Monday he’ll veto the repeal. The three dissenting votes – plus those of two allies who missed the repeal vote – are enough to sustain the veto. Commissioner Earlean Collins, whose 1st District encompasses a portion of Forest Park, represents one of those potential swing votes.
Prior to Stroger’s announcement that he would veto the repeal, Collins said she has “no feelings” about the repeal, but she is evidently furious.
“It’s disgusting the way they operate,” Collins said, referring to fellow commissioners. “They took advantage when I wasn’t there.”
Collins, who supported the initial tax hike, missed the repeal vote because, she said, she was in Washington D.C. lobbying for federal stimulus money. Collins said it’s irresponsible for the board to make such a weighty decision without fully discussing the effects.
“You just don’t make arbitrary decisions,” Collins said. “You just don’t walk in the room in the morning and say we are here to phase out the taxes.”
A repeal, Collins said, jeopardizes labor contracts that could result in costly litigation. Collins also cited three federal decrees, including the addition of 500 correctional officers, which she said the county has not fulfilled and now cannot finance. She could not immediately recall the cost of those decrees, but said “it’s way up there in the millions.”
Still, Collins did not explicitly say whether she would support a veto.
“Let it stand,” Collins said. “Let those people deal with the decision they made at the last minute.”
Commissioner Peter Silvestri, who voted against the initial hike in a 9-8 vote in February 2008, said the repeal and any vote on Stroger’s veto are decisions that cannot be made in a vacuum.
“It’s not rocket science,” Silvestri said. “Government is a question of math.”
Silvestri said he hopes the repeal vote illustrates a new coalition of alliances that will reduce the cost of county government. And he acknowledged that the repeal might never have happened without the pretext of the Tony Cole-Donna Dunnings hiring scandal.
“I do think the controversy played a role,” said Silvestri. “In my opinion, a good role.”
A major revelation of the repeal vote, of course, was the change in tone of Stroger’s two most important allies: Commissioner John Daley and his brother, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.
John Daley, who chairs the board’s finance committee, caused a stir when he chided Stroger to listen more closely to his colleagues. Mayor Richard Daley then expressed his support for the repeal, which inspired a defensive reaction from Stroger.
Commissioner Tony Peraica, 16th District, also represents Forest Park on the county board. He said the Daleys want to replace Stroger with “some other African American figure” that will be “pliable with fealty to the mayor.”
“[The Daleys] are looking to pitch Todd overboard,” Peraica said. “They don’t want to commit political suicide.”
Peraica voted against the initial hike and supports the repeal. But he also was taken aback by the sudden vote. After all, Peraica said, he’s tried to repeal the tax on three previous occasions.
“Everyone laughed at me and said I was grandstanding,” Peraica said. “I think this was all coordinated by [Commissioner Liz] Gorman and [John] Daley to steal my thunder.”
Gorman introduced the repeal May 5.
However it occurred, three things seem clear: Cook County residents and small business owners could be relieved of the tax hike; the county may lose revenue; and Stroger is in trouble.
Even Collins, while maintaining her defense of Stroger, hinted that she may be making some new political calculations.
“He may be a little misguided and young,” Collins said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”