Preckwinkle will reconsider penny sales tax hike if state passes county pension reform

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Cook County President Tony Preckwinkle said Monday there is a way to perhaps soften a one-penny sales tax increase she’s trying to get passed to pay down pension obligations — but only if a gridlocked state legislature passes the county’s pension reform proposal.

“I would argue that there’s no person in Cook County more hesitant to increase the sales tax than me,” Preckwinkle said Monday in a breakfast appearance before the City Club of Chicago.

“I campaigned saying that I would reduce the sales tax. We did what I promised in those first few years and we made significant cuts,” said Preckwinkle, who noted the county laid off 1,500 people and made $465 million in budget cuts to streamline operations in her first few years in office.

But the weight of $6.5 billion in unfunded pension obligations around the county’s neck is dragging it towards further bond downgrades and bankruptcy if nothing is done to stem the tide, she said.

“If Springfield can pass our pension reform bill before the end of the summer, we will re-evaluate our revenue needs and make the appropriate changes for sales tax levy at our September board meeting,” Preckwinkle said.

“For every month without pension reform we fall $30 million further behind,” Preckwinkle said. “We made many, many, many trips to Springfield and we can longer wait for their action.”

Of the revenue the penny sales tax would bring to county coffers, 90 percent would be spent on pensions, said Preckwinkle, who’s in the process of securing the nine votes from county commissioners she needs to pass the measure.

“We’ll introduce it tomorrow,” she said. If the measure eventually passes, the tax would hopefully be in place by January 1 of next year.

On a lighter note, Preckwinkle said she is not going to any of the Grateful Dead shows this weekend at Soldier Field.

“I am not a Grateful Dead fan,” she said.

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