Same old, same old: New Cook County budget hikes spending, taxes and fees

Same old, same old: New Cook County budget hikes spending, taxes and fees

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle resorted to the same tired formula that has all but bankrupted Chicago.

Cook County Board commissioners voted to approve a $4.5 billion county budget Nov. 18 by a 12-5 margin.

Although many county residents already face a record-setting property-tax hike from the city of Chicago, they will also have to brace for a barrage of county-level tax hikes within Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s 2016 budget, including:

  • A sales-tax hike raising Chicago’s combined sales-tax rate to 10.25 percent from 9.25 percent – the highest combined rate in the nation
  • A new 1 percent tax on hotels, pushing the combined hotel-tax burden in Chicago to 17.4 percent – among the top five highest rates in the nation
  • A $20 increase in additional fees per lawsuit filed
  • A new 20-cents-per-milliliter tax on e-cigarette liquids
  • A new 3 percent amusement tax on ticket-reselling websites
  • A new tax on ammunition ranging from 1 cent to 5 cents per round

The new taxes are estimated to bring in more than $500 million a year, $474 million of which will come from the sales-tax hike.

These dollars won’t go toward caring for vulnerable citizens or rooting out inefficiencies in a bloated county government, but instead will flow to government-employee salaries and benefits.

The Chicago Tribune reports that personnel costs consume more than 75 percent of the county’s budget. Those costs will rise by $60 million in 2016 to fund four separate salary increases since June 2013, totaling 6.5 percent. And a majority of the $474 million sales-tax increase will go to fund government-worker pensions.

Preckwinkle said in a press release that the budget “tackles our needs head-on, without dodging tough decisions or kicking the can down the road.” The county reduced its workforce by a paltry 1.2 percent – to 23,419 employees in 2016 from 23,706 in 2015 – through a combination of layoffs and eliminating vacancies.

But Preckwinkle wouldn’t rule out further tax increases to balance the 2017 budget. And there’s no reason not to expect more of the same.

As county leaders begin to devise new ways to pick residents’ pockets during the 2017 budgeting cycle, they should keep in mind that their stomping ground’s tax base is shrinking as Illinoisans take their talents and incomes away from unsustainable nickel-and-diming and toward greener pastures.

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