Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle says she may reevaluate her plan to increase the county’s sales tax if Springfield passes pension reform by the end of this summer.
Preckwinkle is pitching a 1 percentage point sales tax increase, a complete 180 from her campaign pledge in 2010 to roll back the so-called Stroger sales tax, named after her predecessor. That would mean a 10.25 percent sales tax in Chicago.
“I would argue there’s no person in Cook County more hesitant to increase the sales tax than me. But here’s the truth: I’m here to do what’s right for Cook County, what might be personally or politically awkward for me is irrelevant,” Preckwinkle said in a speech Tuesday morning at the City Club.
Preckwinkle said state lawmakers put the county in a tough spot financially by not acting on her pension reform plan.
“The reason we’re raising the tax the entire 1 percent is so that we can meet our obligations and kinda catch up, given the fact that we’ve waited a year for Springfield to act and it’s cost us to be $360 million dollars further down” she said.
But Preckwinkle promised that if the state legislature passes her pension reform bill, the county would reevaluate the sales tax hike, so long as it all happens before the department of revenue’s October 1st deadline.
County finance officials estimate the sales tax hike would raise around $308 million in 2016, which Preckwinkle said would be used mostly for pensions, with a little going to the county’s legacy debt service and some road and bridge infrastructure projects.
The proposal needs the support of nine of the 17 commissioners in order to pass, and a few members said they’re still on the fence.
Commissioner Robert Steele said he was already meeting with businesses in his district to hear any concerns they might have about the increase.
“We know this is gonna be a hard sell, it’s not gonna be an easy sell for me to go out and say this is something we’re gonna bring back to you after we just got rid of it a couple years ago,” Steele said.
Preckwinkle said she would officially introduce the proposal at the full county board meeting Wednesday, with a hearing set for July 8.
Lauren Chooljian is WBEZ’s city politics reporter. Follow her @laurenchooljian.