This month, the Cook County Board of Commissioners will be asked to vote on raising the sales tax by 1 percent. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is recommending that the commissioners vote to approve the increase. I have decided to vote against raising the sales tax and urge the residents of the First District to join me in asking President Preckwinkle to provide the Board of Commissioners with a complete budget proposal that contains a balanced approach to increasing revenue.
A sales tax hike is the least balanced, most regressive way for a government to raise revenue. It hits our poorest residents the hardest. A 1 percent increase may seem negligible to county residents who don’t need to worry about affording their living expenses from month to month. However, those county residents with a lower or fixed income will feel the pain and experience real hardship.
Local businesses will feel the pain too. Many of the near west suburban communities I represent — Oak Park, Forest Park, Maywood, Bellwood, Broadview, Hillside and Westchester — are just a stone’s throw from DuPage County. In buying an expensive consumer item like a television, a 1 percent increase in the sales tax can translate into a significant additional expense. For many near west suburban residents, it will be more than worth their while to take a brief drive to Oak Brook to avoid that additional expense. This is bad news for businesses in west Cook County.
I am familiar with the challenges cited by President Preckwinkle in her drive to increase the sales tax.
Revenues are scarce. Pension costs are rising. The troubled condition of state finances and the failure in Springfield to achieve pension reform both pose a danger to counties and local governments throughout Illinois.
But the proper way to address these challenges is not to place the burden of the shortfall on the citizens who can afford it the least. President Preckwinkle has yet to propose a complete budget to the Board of Commissioners. Governor Rauner has proposed a bill just this week that includes the pension reform packages that President Preckwinkle is asking Springfield to enact. For a sales tax to go into effect in January, the County Board does not need to act until October — and we certainly do not need to act in July.
Now is the time for deliberate and thoughtful fiscal stewardship in Cook County. Now is not the time to rush to increase the Cook County sales tax.
Richard R. Boykin is Cook County commissioner, 1st District, which includes Oak Park.