As Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle prepares to raise the Cook County sales tax by one penny, she should consider that it was that same penny that got her predecessor “lynched in the media.”
On December 4, 2006, Todd Stroger was sworn in as Cook County Board President. He replaced the interim Board President Bobbie Steele, who had only been in office since August 4th of that same year, completing the term of Stroger’s father. John Stroger had been County Board President until he was incapacitated with a stroke.
New County Board County Board President Stroger only had three months to craft an $3.1 billion budget that had a $500 million deficit . “The apparatus was in place to put a budget together, but no one took responsibility during the interim presidency,” Stroger said during an interview.
Stroger consulted his advisers, who all agreed that county government needed to be reformed. Stroger mandated across-the-board cuts of 21% for all 28 departments under his control. He requested the same from the other county officers, who all generally complied, with the exception of the Sheriff’s and State’s Attorney’s Offices.
When Stroger directed the hospital system to make “$90 million” in cuts, they recommended closing Provident and Oak Forest Hospitals. “Oak Forest was in the South Suburbs, and our flagship hospital, the County Hospital is 45 minutes away from Robbins. Our (Black) people needed that hospital, especially with so many Blacks moving to the South Suburbs,” Stroger stated.
“And when you look at Provident, that hospital was the biggest economic engine in that community, plus Michael Reese (hospital) was going to close. It was just too important to close, so we went back to every department and scraped together every bit of money we could, and we kept those hospitals open and balanced the budget in our first year.”
In Stroger’s 2nd year, Cook County found itself $238 million in the hole again because “the union agreement increased every year. We had to solve the problem.” So Stroger along with Ralph Martire and the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability came up with a plan that “paid the bills without taking it out on the employees or over burdening the taxpayers, but we knew we needed revenue.”
In 2007, after trimming as much waste as possible, making almost every reform suggested by advisers and critics alike, and even voluntarily signing on to the Shakman decree, President Todd Stroger passed a balanced budget that included a one penny sales tax increase.
“Not only was the budget balanced, it addressed the structural deficit created by the labor agreements that continue to increase every year, “ Stroger said. “When President Preckwinkle came in she basically replicated my plan, but when she cut the sales tax, she found herself back at square one.”
As Preckwinkle seeks to pass the same one-penny sales tax that many say was the deathblow to the Stroger Presidency, she is finding unlikely opposition.
“The sales tax may be the easiest for the County Board to pass, but it will be hardest on the working families when everyday purchases – diapers, toothpaste, kid’s clothes – get more expensive. And it will be hardest on businesses who risk losing customers to Indiana or Will County. Cook County needs revenue to provide quality health services and a just criminal justice system, but a tax that hits the hardest on the hardest hit is not the way to go,” County Commissioner Bridgette Gainer (D-10) emphasized.
The “Toni Tax” as it is being called will likely pass, but no politician ever wants their name directly associated with a tax. Just ask Stroger.
“The newspaper and media made my name and tax synonymous. Say tax and people said Stroger. Water, property…any tax was The Stroger Tax, and I only asked for one penny,” Stroger finished. “At least I kept the hospitals open for that penny.”
By the time you read this article, Chicago will have elected its next mayor who once again will not be Black, but by all accounts will be elected based on the Black vote. In Chicago’s first-ever may
By the time you read this article, Chicago will have elected its next mayor who once again will not be Black, but by all accounts will be elected based on the Black vote. In Chicago’s first-ever mayoral runoff between incumbent Rahm Emanuel and challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, both candidates have spent a significant amount of their time campaigning in the city’s Black wards. But with no true Black agenda, it is important that the Black community have its own plan for the next four years, regardless of who is elected mayor.
The Black Agenda
Since the gains achieved during the civil rights era, there are very few issues that the Black community has consistently coalesced around, stood for or stood against consistently, which has made it difficult to build unity within the Black community. Taking this into account, the first step is a meeting of representatives from the Black political, business, civic, service and education communities to develop a Black Agenda. The Black Agenda would serve as the measurement tool of Black progress, the measuring stick by which the Black community can judge how worthy both Black and white candidates, businesses, non-profits and schools are of our support. By creating a Black Agenda, with input from all aspects of the Black community, Blacks can create our own uniform standard of accountability.
When Harold Washington successfully ran for mayor, it did not happen on a whim, but was a well-orchestrated plan made possible by the existence of a Black infrastructure that no longer exists today. Washington was able to rely on the independent Black politicians for signatures and votes, Black activists for organizing and Black businesses for funding. At the time of Harold Washington’s election, there were 28 businesses in Chicago on the Black Enterprise 100. Today there is only one. Between Daley and Shakman, the Black political organizations have been decimated and the Black activist community has aged out, leaving up-and-coming activists without clear guidance or direction. Regardless of who is mayor, the Black community must rebuild its internal infrastructure of businesses, political organizations, civic and service groups, and educational institutions through consistent communication. By developing the Black agenda and having the Black infrastructure to support it, the Black community can focus on economics.
When Black politicians pass laws that help Black businesses, those Black businesses in turn hire Black people. This means that regardless of who is mayor, Black people must be vociferous in the demand for their economic piece of the pie in every aspect of city government, including jobs, contracts and purchasing. City records show that whites are still dominant in the areas of jobs and contracts, so to advance economically in the city, the Black community must redefine its path to success. Oftentimes Black activists waste countless hours protesting worksites and construction companies, knowing that a limited few companies can actually compete for the work. Instead of constantly fighting for the construction jobs, Blacks should consider fighting for the jobs that create jobs by generating contracts and providing purchasing opportunities. Blacks should consider the route of procurement over the numbers working in streets and sanitation.
De-Emphasize Social Services
Social services have become an all-consuming liability in the Black community. In many cases, social service agencies are not only service providers, but also major employers in the community. This leaves the Black community in a precarious position because whenever the government needs to make cuts, the first place they cut is social services, which has a two-fold effect on the Black community — cuts in services and cuts in jobs. Going forward, if the Black community is to succeed, we must decrease our dependence on social services as an economic engine and replace it with other entrepreneurial ventures that are less likely to be impacted by government cuts.
Regardless of who is the next mayor, the Black community needs our own plan.
Earlier this month, the Illinois General Assembly voted overwhelmingly against a bill that would have created right to work zones in Illinois. As a matter of fact the bill did not get one yes vote. With Black unemployment in Illinois at almost 24 percent one would assume that the bill would have received at least a few yes votes, but nope, not one, zero…zilch. It seems simple; everyone should have the right to work in his or her own communities’ right? Well it’s not that simple. Let me explain.
Illinois is a strong union state, and they play political hardball. They are also at the center of Illinois’ pension crisis, and Governor Bruce Rauner has declared them his personal public enemy number one. Meanwhile, the trade unions have a long history of excluding Blacks from their membership ranks while the service unions have a similar history within the ranks of their leadership. Black activists often point to almost all White work sites in Black communities as evidence that unions do not operate in the best interests of Black folks.
Governor Rauner hopes to use that fact to exploit the tensions that already exist between the unions, Black legislators, and the Black community. The unions counter that they provide worker benefits and good paying jobs, and that right to work will drive wages down.
So here we are, once again with White people fighting to tell us what’s best for us, without talking to us. The white unions tell us that if we support right to work, our wages will go down and our benefits will decrease. The Governor says supporting right to work will allow Black folk to work in their own communities. But here’s my question… if its truly OUR community, how come the White folks are making us choose either or? We want the right to work and a good salary. They don’t expect White folks to make that choice, so we aren’t either. If we don’t work, there is no work. Union or not!