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17 percent cutback in Cook County? Not very likely

Friday, December 22, 2006
Daily Southtown

The issue: Todd Stroger, new president of the Cook County Board, is calling on department heads to cut their budgets by a whopping 17 percent. They're saying it's impossible.

We say: Officials who have refused to make cutbacks of half as much in past years aren't likely to comply now. Stroger knows that.

New Cook County Board President Todd Stroger said this week that he'll give county department heads until today to cut their budgets by 17 percent -- or he'll do it for them.
Stroger didn't offer to sell anyone the Brooklyn Bridge, but he might as well have. Other county officials already are saying it will be unfeasible to make 17 percent cuts all at once. Even the man Stroger defeated in November, county board member Tony Peraica (R-Riverside), who ran on a budget-cutting platform, said, "I don't think you can do that in one budget year."
A spokeswoman for new Sheriff Tom Dart said if would be "virtually impossible to cut 17 percent" and complained Stroger had upped the ante from the 10 percent cuts that have been talked about for the past few months. State's Attorney Dick Devine also scoffed at the 17 percent figure.
Stroger, of course, knows heads of the various county agencies will react this way, and he knows most county board members have been arguing for years that any cuts at all would be impossible. So what's the new board president really doing?
We'd guess he's engaging in a public relations gesture, hoping to persuade some taxpayers that he really wants to cut the county's spending. We'd also guess he expects the department heads to dig in their heels, as several already have done, and that most members of the county board will argue for moderation in paring county spending, after which Stroger will relent, and we can go back to the usual increases in spending -- along with a last-minute surprise revenue "enhancement." Maybe another cigarette tax increase, or a sales tax boost.
Or maybe things will turn out so badly we'll have to have the property tax increase that has been talked about but avoided over the past few years.
If Stroger was serious about budget cuts, he would have proposed specific spending reductions, not a blind, across-the-board cutback that everyone in county government can reject as too much, and probably with some justification.
This is a cynical ploy, and one that could yield no cuts at all. With a $500 million deficit looming this year, failure to start making cuts only can lead to a fiscal disaster.
Of course, it's possible Stroger knows full well the county budget is so bloated and so packed with unnecessary spending he can eliminate 17 percent of it. And it's possible he might be serious about eliminating 6,200 jobs.
We'll believe it when we see it and not before.
Go ahead, Mr. Stroger. Prove us wrong.

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