Cook County eliminates wheel tax

The Cook County Vehicle License, or a wheel tax, is an annual fee that allows cars registered in unincorporated Cook County to legally drive on roads.

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Cook County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed the Wheel Tax Elimination Ordinance which will end vehicle registration fees and fines for residents in unincorporated Cook County.

The Cook County Board unanimously voted to end vehicle registration fees and fines for residents of unincorporated Cook County.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times File

Residents of unincorporated Cook County will not be required to buy county vehicle registrations beginning next summer.

The County Board on Thursday unanimously passed the Wheel Tax Elimination Ordinance sponsored by Cook County Commissioner Kevin Morrison. It puts an end to car owners in unincorporated parts of the county from having to register their vehicles in the same way some towns require a city sticker.

The idea is to help ease economic pressures on families. That annual fee is $80 for smaller passenger vehicles and $100 for larger passenger vehicles, but significant fines can be added if residents are late in registering.

“Today, we take another step towards making Cook County one of the most equitable in the nation by eliminating a regressive tax that has been a burden on county residents,” Morrison said in a statement. “It is our duty to be responsible fiscal stewards for our working families.”

Morrison said many municipalities have already eliminated vehicle stickers and it was unfair that unincorporated Cook County residents are “taxed more than their neighbor.”

The ordinance will take effect June 30, 2023.

“The Cook County Wheel Tax is regressive and unnecessary. And it disproportionally impacts the Black and Brown residents of Cook County who can least afford to pay it,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “The resources we spend enforcing it outweigh its gains, and we’re proud that we can give the taxpayers some of their hard-earned money back.”

The Cook County Bureau of Finance estimated about 8,000 staff hours were spent on administering the tax and will not be redirected to other services. The lost revenue from the tax is minimal and has been partially offset by other administration savings and county revenue sources.

The wheel tax happens to be less than half of a percent of the more than $8 billion budget, officials said.  

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning released a report last year where it highlighted the need to end some transportation fees and fines that were only hurting low-income Cook County residents.

Erin Aleman, the agency’s executive director, applauded the county’s efforts to eliminate the tax.

“The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning supports action to reduce the financial burden of transportation revenues on underserved and disadvantaged residents across northeastern Illinois,” Aleman said. “These steps must be balanced with the need to avoid reducing investments in the transportation system and to improve lower-cost mobility options.”

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