Will Cook County launch utility taxes?
Gas, electricity fees would cost average home $5 a month
September 7, 2007
By Jonathan Lipman Staff writer
Cook County could add $600 million in new utility taxes under proposals floated Thursday by Commissioner Bill Beavers (D-Chicago).
Beavers proposed electricity and natural gas taxes during a board meeting and said he’ll propose a telecommunications tax soon. The county has no taxes on these items now, he said.
"Either we’re going to get some monies where we can hire people or we’re going to close the county down totally," Beavers said.
The county is expecting another major budget gap for 2008, though officials haven’t released a figure yet.
Board President Todd Stroger has ruled out a property tax increase but said Thursday he wants commissioners to seriously consider the proposals from Beavers, his close ally.
"I think (commissioners) need to look at the proposals and talk about what they can support to make sure we can keep the doors open," Stroger said. "It has gone through our administration and they said that they’re sound ideas."
Beavers said the taxes would be similar in structure and amount to those levied by the city. Taxes on electricity and natural gas would bring in about $400 million a year for the county, he said. Beavers said taxes on telecommunication are not yet calculated, but he believes they’ll bring in $200 million.
"It’s a small amount," Beavers said. "In some cases less than $1, in some cases $1 or a little more (per monthly bill)," Beavers said. "When you talk about health care, $1 a month for health care, I don’t think it’s a hell of a lot to pay. There’s nowhere else to go but the county hospital."
Beaver’s proposal for electricity would charge residents 0.61 cents per kilowatt-hour for the first 2,000 kWh per month, which is the same as Chicago’s electricity tax. The average American home uses 938 kWh per month, which would mean $5.72 a month in taxes.
For natural gas, Beavers suggests 5.2 cents per therm.
Beavers also proposed Thursday a tax on cigars and loose tobacco. The board shot down a similar proposal in past years.
Commissioner Forrest Claypool, an ardent foe of tax increases, said Beavers’ proposals were part of Stroger’s strategy to raise taxes in 2008 instead of making further cuts.
"I think the public would be willing to accept higher taxes for public health and safety if they saw evidence that the county had reformed itself, and there was no waste and fat," said Claypool (D-Chicago). "But I don’t see how you can go to the taxpayers now."
But Beavers said he had talked to a number of commissioners and many thought it was time to boost revenue.
Beavers said commissioners who object to raising taxes need to come up with a better solution. "The county has cut to the bone. We don’t have enough people to do the work as it is."