Cook County commissioners overwhelmingly passed a $2.94 billion budget that closes a $315 million shortfall but will require layoffs and hikes in fees and taxes to do so.
At its Nov. 18 meeting county commissioners passed the budget by a 16 to 1 vote. But the approval calls for 800 employees to be laid off and a $50 million spike in taxes and fees that will hit taxpayers like a ton of bricks, said Commissioner William Beavers, a Democrat, who voted against the budget largely because of all the taxes imposed on everyday working families.
“These penny-ante taxes are hard on people,” Beavers said.
But Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle blamed the layoffs on unions who she said did not swallow recommendations made to avoid so many layoffs.
“The proposal that was on the table was shutdown days and unpaid holidays and that didn’t resonate with the either the membership apparently or the union leadership,” Preckwinkle said.
However, union leadership denied her claim and instead said layoffs could have been avoided if only Preckwinkle would have embraced recommendations made by unions.
“It’s extremely disappointing that the president opposed and commissioners voted down a plan to avert layoffs through a penny increase in the tobacco tax,” said Anders Lindall, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 31, which represents 5,000 county employees.
Whose to blame for so many employees losing their jobs is not important, Lindall added. What is important is that families will be without a job at a time when employment in Illinois is back on the rise. It increased to 10.1 percent from 10 percent in October, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
“Instead they are choosing to destroy hundreds of jobs at a time of record unemployment,” Lindall said.
But beyond job losses taxpayers can expect to choose from a grocery list of taxes and fees that will ultimately hit their bottom line.
They include vehicle sticker fees will double for cars, trucks, motorcycles, trailers and other vehicles registered in the unincorporated area of Cook County. The stickers will go from $40 to $80 for sedans and $50 to $100 for most SUVs; and if you buy a car, yacht or other titled property through the website Craigslist.com, you can expect to now pay a new tax, adding up to 1 percent of the purchase price; a 50-cent tax would be added to daily parking fees between $2.01 and $4.99 at garages countywide; new will be a $4.75-per-day fee to park in the garages at the county’s five suburban courthouses including the Criminal Courts Building at 26th Street and California Avenue; the alcohol tax will go from 6 cents a gallon to 9 cents; and smokers will especially be hit hard. The county will expand its tobacco tax to include currently excluded cigars and roll-your-own cigarettes. That includes a new 5-cent tax on small cigars while larger stogies will be 25 cents. Loose and smokeless tobacco will carry a new 30-cent-per-ounce tax. Big stogies will go up to 30 cents and the loose and smokeless tobacco tax will double to 60 cents an ounce in 2013.
It is important to note though that the increased fees and taxes are expected to bring in over $34 million in new revenue the county plans to use to soften the blow next year so taxpayers are not hit again with so many tax and fee hikes.