Tax repeal proposal fails

A proposal to repeal the county's 1 percent sales tax increase died before it could gain traction yesterday, amid opposition from commissioners who sought to portray the proposal as political grandstanding.

As proposed by Commissioner Tony Peraica, a Republican candidate for Cook County State's Attorney, the plan would have reversed Chicago's 10.25 percent sales tax on Jan. 1. The tax went into effect July 1.

But the idea, defeated by a 10-7 vote, was dismissed by Peraica's political rivals, who characterized the effort as a short-sighted attempt to fuel his campaign.

Peraica, of Riverside, started the day with a press conference featuring a group of citizens complaining that the the tax increase was hurting business and driving customers to shop outside of the county.

"People can't afford to live here," Peraica told reporters. "The government has $3.2 billion. There's plenty of money there. We need to reduce waste, fraud and abuse. This is a corruption tax."

Proponents of the tax increase, approved by commissioners in March, said the extra $430 million it is expected to generate would help turn around the county's health care system.

Those who oppose the increase say it hurts businesses on the edges of the county, as well as families.

During Tuesday's meeting, Peraica attempted to take his proposed ordinance off the day's agenda, saying more facts and figures needed to be presented before it could be voted on, and acknowledging that he didn't have the votes to support a repeal.

But rivals, including Robert Maldonado (D-Chicago), John Daley (D-Chicago), William Beavers (D-Chicago) and Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood), insisted that it stay on the agenda so they could vote against it. Some took the opportunity to defend the tax increase and accuse Peraica of using the issue to boost his political profile.

"At some point integrity should stand before everything we do here," said Commissioner Earlean Collins (D-Chicago). "That is irresponsible to do."

"This is irresponsible, Tony," chided Deborah Sims (D-Chicago). "We're supposed to put political things aside when we enter this room."

Supporting Peraica were Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago), Elizabeth Gorman (R-Orland Park), Gregg Goslin (R-Glenview), Mike Quigley (D-Chicago), Timothy Schneider (R-Bartlett), and Peter Silvestri (R-Chicago).

Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) said the increase already has helped the county take steps to improve the health care system. Recently the county created an independent board to oversee improvements there.

Suffredin also called for more reforms to the structure of the county government to allow it to run more efficiently.

"Health care is important," Suffredin said. "When we imposed the sales tax we got an independent health board. It's unfortunate we had to do it with a sales tax. We have to work together and we have to stabilize this county government."

During a press conference after the proposal was defeated, County Board  President Todd Stroger, whose administration originally proposed the increase, said he believed Peraica was trying to get attention for his campaign.

"Yes, I do," he said.

Stroger said a repeal of the tax increase may come eventually, but not merely because of public outcry. And he defended the need for the additional revenue.

"If we read the paper and say, 'Oh, nobody likes this,' we'd be cutting our own throats," Stroger said. "We are bringing in revenue that we need."

He said the decisions he has made during his term were done for the good of the county, and not to improve his image.

"I'm doing what's best for the county," he said. "When the county collapses, I'll admit I screwed up. Until then, I think I'm doing a hell of a good job."