SUN- TIMES EDITORIAL

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Preckwinkle must re­sume lead de­spite pop- tax de­feat.

Cook County Board Pres­i­dent Toni Preckwinkle struck out on her soda pop tax. It proved so hor­ri­bly un­pop­u­lar that the County Board, over her ob­jec­tions, re­pealed it this week.

All the same, it is still Preckwinkle’s job, though she’s feel­ing the sting of de­feat, to take the lead in fix­ing the prob­lem — a $ 200 mil­lion bud­get hole — cre­ated by the re­peal of the tax.

Sure, she’s al­ready done her part, as re­quired by law, by pre­sent­ing the board with a bal­anced bud­get. She has ev­ery right now, strictly speak­ing, to dump it on the board to find an al­ter­na­tive source of rev­enue or make ma­jor bud­get cuts.

But, with re­spect, that looks like pout­ing. His­tor­i­cally speak­ing, Preckwinkle has been a bet­ter leader than that. In her first year as pres­i­dent, she pow­ered through a whop­ping 17 per­cent cut in county spend­ing, un­de­terred by the fact that other elected county of­fi­cials are not ob­li­gated to do her bid­ding.

She took the lead then and got the job done. She should take the lead again now.

In a meet­ing with the Sun- Times Editorial Board, Preckwinkle con­firmed that she won’t of­fer an al­ter­nate bud­get. In­stead, she said, it’s up to the county’s 17 com­mis­sion­ers now to iden­tify spend­ing cuts or other sources of rev­enue. But in all like­li­hood, the fi­nal so­lu­tion will in­volve more bud­get cuts than new taxes. Tax fa­tigue has set in hard.

For al­most a decade now, ev­ery time lo­cal res­i­dents have looked up, a new tax has bar­reled down on them. Prop­erty taxes are up. Chicago’s water and sewer taxes have been raised. Garbage fees are up. Cook County has raised the sales tax. The state has raised the in­come tax. Taxes on phone bills are up. City shop­pers even face a new bag tax.

A big part of Cook County’s bud­get problems can be blamed on Spring­field politi­cians. They’ve started skim­ming $ 15 mil­lion a year from the county’s sales tax rev­enues. The state’s Med­i­caid re­duc­tions will drain $ 114 mil­lion over 12 months from the county’s cof­fers. The state’s re­duced grants for child care sup­port spills $ 6.6 mil­lion in red ink onto the county’s bal­ance sheet.

On top of that, the state lately has failed to pay all the money it owes Cook County, and the county doesn’t get the in­ter­est on late pay­ments that pri­vate- sec­tor com­pa­nies do. At the end of Au­gust, the state owed the county $ 213 mil­lion.

Much of the blame for the re­cent flurry of new and higher taxes now goes, as well, to pre­vi­ous city and county elected of­fi­cials — a for­mer mayor and a cou­ple of for­mer County Board pres­i­dents — who ran govern­ment fi­nances into the ground. To a large ex­tent, Preckwinkle and Mayor Rahm Emanuel are an­swer­ing for the bad de­ci­sions of their pre­de­ces­sors.

No mat­ter. The chal­lenge is to avoid re­peat­ing those mis­takes. The only way for­ward is to con­tinue to cut ex­penses wher­ever pos­si­ble, pay bills and meet pen­sion obli­ga­tions in full and on time, and quit liv­ing on bor­rowed time.

That’s the chal­lenge for Preckwinkle and the board, which must fi­nal­ize a county bud­get by the end of next month.

That soda pop tax re­ally was a bad idea. We no­ticed on Thurs­day that you could buy a 12- pack of Or­ange Crush for $ 4.88 at Walmart. But the soda tax, at a penny on an ounce, would jack up the price by a whop­ping 39 per­cent.

The County Board and other county elected of­fi­cials can do bet­ter than that, with Preckwinkle lead­ing the way.

RICH HEIN/ SUN- TIMES

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