February 14, 2006:† On Thursday, February 9, 2006, the Cook County Board of Commissioners adopted a budget for the current fiscal year.† Along with reform measures to increase the efficiency of Cook County government, the approved budget includes a $1 per pack increase in the cigarette tax which will provide at least $70 million to the county.† I voted in favor of this tax increase for one primary reason: to restore the $70 million that the Bush Administration cut in federal health care dollars from our Cook County hospitals.† I maintain that the cigarette tax is reasonable since cigarettes are directly related to the increase number of patients with serious lung and heart problems that our hospitals treat.† In order to ensure that the monies raised from the cigarette tax are used properly, I successfully introduced and passed a budget amendment that directs all of the increased funds raised from the cigarette tax to the Bureau of Health.† In addition, I introduced and passed an amendment to have President Strogerís proposed tobacco tax only apply to cigarettes and not to other tobacco products, since the amount generated from taxing such products may be less than the cost to collect such revenues.
In this budget we were able to appropriate the necessary funds to cover the cost of additional jail guards and provide funding for needed health care services to suburban residents.† With these actions and others, the reform process that began when I took office continues and I will continue to do my very best to protect the taxpayers of Cook County.
January 3, 2006:† President John H. Stroger, Jr. presented his 2006 budget on December 19, 2005 - 19 days after the Budget Year began. Under State law the Cook County Board Finance Committee, of which I am a member, will now begin public hearings on the budget. The Committee has the ability to totally rewrite the budget as we have done since I was elected to the Board. The following dates for these public hearings are:† January 5 in Markham; January 6 in Chicago; January 9 in Skokie; and January 12 in Maywood. For further details,†click here.†
I encourage all who are concerned especially about health care services and other County functions to attend and speak out. Copies of the budget are available for public inspection at the County Courthouses and can be viewed online at the County website, www.cookcountygov.com/2006_budget2.htm.† There are many questions about the budget that must be answered at these hearings. Questions about waste and mismanagement at all levels of the County must be looked at before any vote on this budget occurs.
The Bush Administration has cut Federal health support for Cook Countyís Hospitals by $70 million so there is a need for additional health care dollars as requests for health services increases. President Stroger has proposed a $1 per pack increase in the cigarette tax which would provide approximately $70 million. While this tax is reasonable and† cigarettes are directly related to the increase number of patients with serious lung problems, the Board must first determine that all reforms that could save money have been made before considering increasing any tax. If the cigarette tax passes I will attach an amendment to insure that all the proceeds go to health care to make up for the Federal fund loss.
I will periodically make further statements on the budget negotiations and post them on my web site.