Other Aspects of Chicago Politics: Cook County Commission’s Sales Tax Increase

Lynne Kiesling

While you are at the Chicago Tribune editorial page reading the local media commentary on our [sarcasm]humble and noble public servant Governor Blagoevich[/sarcasm], take a look at the sales tax calendar:

sales tax calendar

Here’s the story: our Cook County government is allegedly full of a lot of the types of patronage politics that we’ve been talking about this week. Jobs and sinecures for well-connected people, etc. The way we fund education in Illinois is also a mess, which plays into this dynamic. For years the political power on the Cook County Commission resided in its president, John Stroger, who was a expert patronage politician. He had seizures and a massive stroke in 2006, and instead of having an election in the county to replace him … he anointed his son, Todd, as his heir apparent in the presidency of the Commission. Since 2006 Todd Stroger has been President of the Cook County Commission.

Mismanagement abounds, and with all of these patronage jobs on the county payroll, how do these get paid for? The budget is a shambles. Here’s how the patronage politicians pay for the graft: increase taxes. Property tax rates in Cook County are some of the highest in the country, but the latest and most obvious increase was the full percentage point increase in the county’s sales tax last summer. At 10.25% we have the highest sales tax in the country. This tax increase is largely due to Todd Stroger’s patronage and budgetary mismanagement. There are fiscally sensible Commissioners who have challenged Stroger, including Tony Peraica, Mike Quigley and Forrest Claypool, but they have not been able to get traction against the well-entrenched patronage politics that has shaped the Commission for most of its existence and was solidified under John Stroger.

This sales tax increase is definitely hurting local retail businesses, and is changing the shopping behavior of county residents, who at the margin have shifted even further toward online shopping at outlets that do not have a Cook County footprint. Andy’s Music on Belmont, for example, sells an amazing range of musical instruments, and when I’ve been in there I’ve talked to some of the staff, and they know that they are losing business to shops outside of the county. Speaking personally, I try to do as little shopping in Cook County as possible. I haven’t bought much of anything other than groceries in Cook County since the sales tax increase (okay, I bought a pair of mallets at Andy’s, but they were pretty inexpensive). And I’m not the only one. I’m also thinking of getting a new bike next year, but if I do, it’ll actually be just about break even for me to fly to Austin and get fit for it and have them ship it to me. I hate not supporting my local bike shop, my local yarn store, etc., but this is real money we’re talking about here!

That’s why the story of the sales tax calendar is great. The Tribune has been running this calendar for months, counting up the days since the sales tax increase went into effect and until the next Commission election, when we get the chance to vote the bum(s) out. Earlier this week, according to this Editor & Publisher article, Todd Stroger vowed that he will never buy another Chicago Tribune because he is so fed up with the criticism from the Tribune, and in particular with the sales tax calendar.

Although in light of the Blagoevich tapes, perhaps we can be kind and say that at least Todd Stroger didn’t unleash a stream of profanity-laden invective and ask the Tribune leadership to fire the editor!

Aaaaah, Chicago politics …

6 thoughts on “Other Aspects of Chicago Politics: Cook County Commission’s Sales Tax Increase

  1. On the other hand, what more could a recently bankrupt newspaper company ask for than a national scandal in its hometown?

  2. I’m also thinking of getting a new bike next year, but if I do, it’ll actually be just about break even for me to fly to Austin and ride it home to Chicago.

    Fixed that for you. 🙂

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