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Commissioner rips gov over county loan payment plan

Thursday, November 30, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by ABDON M. PALLASCH Staff Reporter

John Daley, the mayor's brother and the No. 2 power on the Cook County Board, lashed out at Gov. Blagojevich on Wednesday, accusing him of breaking a promise to give the county more time to repay money to the state.
"I believe that's a disgrace," Daley said. "As a Democrat who voted for this candidate, the governor made a commitment to [County Board President Bobbie Steele]. . . . It's apparent that he has once again not lived up to his word. Maybe we have to do what some members of the General Assembly do and get a letter of commitment when we deal with this governor."
At issue is $20 million in Medicaid money the state advanced the county government to pay for health care the county provided to the poor. The county was supposed to pay it back this year and was given an extension until June of next year.
Steele said she met with Blagojevich over the summer and told him the county was having a financial crisis and asked the state to give the county an extra year. She said he agreed.
"He did make a firm commitment that the payment be delayed," Steele said.
But in the past few days, the governor's office said it now expects the county to pony up $10 million by June and the other $10 million by next December.
Senator defends governor
"He doesn't give a damn about us, and I think it's about time we draw the line," Commissioner Mario Moreno said. "He has to deal with us in a different way despite his screw-up. Let's just not send it and see what happens. They're not the phone company. They can't just shut us off."
Blagojevich's office said he never made a firm commitment to push all the debt back to 2008. State Sen. Rickey Hendon, a Steele ally who sat in on the meeting, defended Blagojevich.
Hopeful of new deal
"I think governor should be praised for working with the county and making an adjustment on a contract that he did not originate," Hendon said. "My understanding was that he would do all he could to work with us on the entire $20 million, and I don't think we're finished. I am not going to criticize someone who met me halfway."
Hendon and Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who has also been negotiating with Blagojevich's office on the county's behalf, said they are both hopeful they can "work something out" with the governor's office before the bills come due.
Steele said she would like the governor's office to forgive the whole amount because county health facilities treat so many people from outside Cook County.

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