The anti-tax armies are ready for battle, and it looks like Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s Sweetened Beverage Tax will be repealed next week. Friday morning, Republican County Commissioner Sean Morrison announced a bipartisan deal among 12 commissioners to sunset the existing tax on Dec. 31 so it doesn’t affect the 2017 budget, but kills it for the 2018 budget.
Twelve commissioners backing the deal removes Preckwinkle’s ability to veto it, meaning when budget hearings begin on Oct. 23, commissioners will have to look for ways to either cut $200 million of county services or raise a commensurate amount to fill the gap. The hearings won’t be pleasant, to be sure.
As Chicago and Cook County have been hit with a growing wave of new taxes, the soda tax seemed to be the one where residents began to really complain.
But after decades of relatively low taxes–yes, you heard me right–Chicago and Cook County citizens are discovering somebody has to pay for all the stuff we’ve got here.
For decades, Chicago and Cook County have been dodging the taxman, as former Mayor Richard M. Daley and former Cook County President Todd Stroger did everything they could to avoid property tax increases. To this effect, Daley, Stroger, and now Mayor Rahm Emanuel have layered on a blizzard of little taxes. Like a garbage tax, red light cameras, water tax, bag tax and a 911 tax.
A 2014 study of property taxes around Illinois by the state’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability found that Cook County property owners had on average considerably lower property tax rates than the rest of the state.
While most of Illinois was paying a property tax rate just over 8%, Cook County residents were paying something closer to 7%.
While this might be news to most Cook County residents, downstaters are acutely aware of it. During last summer’s debate over education funding, witnesses regularly testified how they were paying sky high property taxes to keep their schools open. One downstate school superintendent testified he paid $8,000 a year on a $300,000 house..
That means if Cook County residents, and Chicagoans in particular, have a gripe about their taxes, the rest of the state will not give a hoot.
While Cook County will likely need to fill a $200 million hole for next year, Chicago’s got a much bigger bill coming due: Chicago Public Schools probably (they aren’t telling) have millions of dollars of debt payments. Police reform will also cost tens of millions. And then there’s the big daddy: steadily increasing pension payments with a big jump scheduled for 2019.
That’s just local. The state has some big bills to pay too. starting with a $16 billion backlog. That’s not to mention the suffering higher and local education systems that are still radically underfunded compared to most states, despite last summer’s big education reform.
And government is smaller than ever. After the cuts of the early 2000s, Illinois’ state government is smaller than it’s been in decades. Emanuel has cut thousands of city positions since he took office in 2011. So has President Preckwinkle. Waste, fraud and abuse, while ever present, aren’t our problem. It’s that we have to pay for what we use.
On Wednesday, Oct. 18, Emanuel will introduce his budget, which reportedly has a $259 million gap. You can be sure he’s been watching the beverage tax debate closely for tips.