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Cook County budget war escalates
Stroger touts cuts to one department budget, but state"s attorney not impressed

Thursday, December 28, 2006
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger upped the ante in the budget war Wednesday, showcasing a department that said it could make the 17 percent budget cuts he has requested.
Public Defender Edwin A. Burnette proposed laying off 25 administrative workers and up to 50 of the office’s 550 attorneys, eliminating cost-of-living increases for nonunion employees and requiring 10-day furloughs for employees. Some employees would be reduced to four-day workweeks, and law firms that do business with the county would be asked to do pro bono work.
The move puts pressure on other elected officials to come to the bargaining table. Most notably, it puts a bull’s-eye squarely on Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine’s back. Devine has been the most vocal about protesting 17 percent across-the-board cuts, even going so far as to say the cuts would result in a rising crime rate.
“The criminals aren’t going to be roaming the streets … because we cut budgets,” shot back Commissioner Gregg Goslin, a Glenview Republican who heartily endorsed Burnette’s proposed changes.
By showcasing Devine’s counterpart Wednesday, Stroger put more pressure on the state’s attorney to make at least some concessions, as Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has done. Dart has said he can cut 10 percent but balked at numbers greater than that.
Devine’s office was curt in its reply Wednesday.
“It appears that Mr. Burnette has had the opportunity to review his budget with Mr. Stroger and his team. We have not. … We look forward to that,” said Tandra Simonton.
Stroger spokesman Steve Mayberry said Stroger, who was supposed to meet with Devine today, tried to work despite feeling ill, but became even more ill once he got to the office and had to go home. He looks forward to sitting down with all the elected officials, Mayberry said.
The proposed changes in the public defender’s office are not official. They would have to be approved by several unions. Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin of Evanston said he doesn’t think mandated four-day workweeks and 10-day furloughs are permissible.
Still, he and Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley of Chicago said the proposals represent a heretofore unheard-of phenomenon in Cook County government: rethinking baseline budgets.
And Quigley warned that if unions don’t bend on some work rules, Stroger may be forced to do the only thing permitted by union contract: layoffs.
While Quigley doesn’t like across-the-board cuts, he thinks something had to be done to communicate to county officials that things can’t continue as they did under Stroger’s father, prior board President John Stroger. The elder Stroger, Quigley said, protected county officials’ budgets and raised taxes to compensate.
“You could use the argument that Todd had to wake’ em up,” Quigley said. “They never felt like they had to do anything to streamline this government … and now they have to and it’s upsetting them.”
He lauded Dart’s overture of cutting some percentage, rather than digging in his heels completely.
“They should not come to the table with clean hands (and) no suggestions,” Quigley said.
Goslin agreed.
“Don’t tell me there’s no areas to cut. Don’t even tell me that,” he said.
If Devine won’t let any funds go on his own, Goslin said, “then we’ll give it up for him.”
Goslin, a Republican who backed Todd Stroger’s opponent in the election, urged Stroger to keep doing what he was doing.
“If he backs down now, he has surrendered four years of management to the other elected officials,” said Goslin, who pledged to back Stroger.
“I told the president that if this is the direction he wants to travel, I will become his constant companion. I will become a Stroger soldier.”

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