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Preckwinkle won't rule out tax increase to strike pension deal

Updated: April 9, 2014 7:26PM

Hoping to ward off another credit rating downgrade, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Wednesday that she will soon present a plan to reform the county’s underfunded pension system.

And she’s leaving the door open to hiking property, sales and other taxes.

When asked repeatedly about the possibility of tax increases, Preckwinkle responded: “We’re looking at all the options. Everything is on the table.”

Preckwinkle won the county board presidency on a vow — which she fulfilled — to roll back a controversial penny-on-the-dollar sales tax hike that doomed her predecessor Todd Stroger.

Preckwinkle declined to discuss specifics, but she did say that any plan that goes before the Legislature will not have property tax increase language written into the bill.

She also acknowledged that any reform to the county’s 54 percent funded pension system will require a mix of new revenue and reduced benefits for workers.

“We’re the same as the city in that, if we don’t get action on our pension problems, we’re looking at downgrades by the rating agencies,” Precwinkle told reporters, following a Cook County Board meeting. “Needless to say, we don’t want that to happen.”

While not facing as dire a fiscal situation as the city, the county’s credit rating was nonetheless downgraded last summer, Preckwinkle said.

“We’ve escaped the draconian downgrades the city has suffered. But we . . . were told by the rating agencies that if we don’t get some pension reform done this session, we’ll be facing additional downgrades,” Preckwinkle said.

When asked about the response the plan elicited from workers’ unions, who were briefed on the matter earlier this week, Preckwinkle sounded cautiously optimistic.

“Some were positive. I think more were toward the neutral end,” she said. “But we’ll see what happens. We have two weeks to put our plan together and get it down to Springfield to have a reasonable chance of passing it this session.”

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