As the Cook County Board of Commissioners works its way through its budget for Fiscal Year 2016, the question I try to keep foremost in my mind as a commissioner is: “Who pays the most?”
Put differently, when the cost of government goes up, who bears the largest share of those costs?
As we draw closer to a final vote on Board President Preckwinkle’s proposed 2016 Cook County Budget, my concern is that we are asking the people with the least to pay the most.
A prime example is the board president’s proposed 3% amusement tax increase. The tax would apply to cable television bills, and would be added to the City of Chicago’s amusement tax rate of 9%.
Proponents of these sorts of taxes like to characterize them as “luxury taxes.” But in this day and age, cable TV is not a luxury. Most families consider it a basic service. It’s not only a consistent, affordable source of entertainment — it’s also a vital conduit for families to receive news and information.
The families that would be hit hardest by an amusement tax increase are the families that can least afford it. The well-to-do will have no problem absorbing the extra $90 per year the amusement tax increase will add to household budgets.
But seniors and residents on fixed incomes will be challenged by the additional expense. Let’s not forget that recipients of Social Security will not be getting a cost of living adjustment (COLA) this year. Fixed incomes will remain flat.
Unfortunately, under the current County Budget, taxes will certainly rise. President Preckwinkle’s penny sales tax increase has already been narrowly approved, so life in Cook County is destined to grow more expensive in 2016.
The only question now is, how expensive?
Cook County is the second largest county in the country, with a budget in excess of $4 billion. The proposed amusement tax increase is projected to generate roughly $20 million.
I refuse to accept that our county cannot locate $20 million in savings to avoid further reaching into the pockets of those who can least afford it.
In the coming weeks, I will be urging President Preckwinkle and my colleagues on the Cook County Board to reconsider the amusement tax increase and look for more reasonable and equitable ways to address our budget gap.
Richard R. Boykin is Cook County Commissioner for the 1st District.