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Stroger promises to enforce cuts

Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger promised Tuesday to cut the budgets of county officials by 17 percent if they wouldn't do it themselves.
"There will be 17 percent cuts. ... I won't do it, but Tom will," Stroger said with a laugh, nodding toward county finance chief Tom Glaser.
Stroger said his proposed cut will result in layoffs for 6,200 of the county's 27,000 employees.
The promise to cut their budgets was met with howls of protest from county officals and with some skepticism by county board members, even those who have been pushing for cuts for years.
"In light of our situation, it's appropriate," said Commissioner Tony Peraica (R-Riverside), who ran against Stroger for president last month. "But ... I don't think you can do that in one budget year."
The county's final estimates for the 2007 budget year, which began Dec. 1, include a $502.7 million gap between revenue and expenses. The county must pass a budget by Feb. 28.
Closing that gap was the biggest issue of the presidential campaign. Stroger promised not to increase taxes and said Tuesday big cuts are the only option.
"Plan B is a 17 percent cut," Stroger said.
But Stroger hinted he might be flexible on the size of the cut in some cases, saying he would take into consideration that some elected officials already have "cut to the bone" while others never make cuts.
Treasurer Maria Pappas, for example, has cut her budget by 5 percent a year for five years.
Stroger said he wants elected officials to cut anything that is not part of their "core mission" but declined to make suggestions.
Stroger said he will cut 17 percent from budgets under his own control as well, which includes the county health bureau. He took steps toward that Tuesday by deferring payment on all contracts for the health bureau, saying he needed more information before approving them.
The proposal already is prompting fierce resistance from other countywide officials.
"There is a limit to how much you can cut us because we do have to have a criminal justice system here -- I think," State's Attorney Dick Devine said.
Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for Sheriff Tom Dart, said Dart's office was surprised by the new 17 percent request because interim president Bobbie Steele and Stroger had been calling for a 10 percent cut for weeks.
"It's going to be virtually impossible to cut 17 percent," Daly said. "It can't be done without violating the federal consent decree, which requires us to hire more correctional officers in 2007."
Daly said it was up to Stroger to propose an alternative. Devine said he wanted Stroger to look at cutting the county health bureau first or fixing its underperforming fee collection system.
The county board pushed Stroger's predecessor and father, John Stroger, into making 1 percent and 2 percent cuts to offices rather than increase taxes over the past two budget years. But some of the leaders of that fight said they didn't think the county could absorb a 17 percent cut right away without problems.
"These kind of changes should have been made long term," said Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago). "Here, and it's not (Stroger's) fault, but you have to do it quickly and ham-handedly. ... And it's going to affect services."


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