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Can Pappas give lessons?

Monday, January 08, 2007
Chicago Tribune

Blustery statements. Testy memos. Private caucuses to share horror-show warnings of what evils will occur if Cook County Board President Todd Stroger really does make them cut their precious budgets. Yes, several Cook County officials are hanging tough against change, acting as if they own the taxpayer-funded offices to which they've been elected. Except ...

No sooner had Thursday's little clubhouse meeting of holdouts broken up than they suffered another defection. County Recorder Gene Moore announced that he would lay off supervisors, ax unfilled job slots and trim line-item expenses to meet Stroger's call to reduce his budget request for 2007 by 17 percent.
Still to comply: State's Atty. Richard Devine, Sheriff Tom Dart and Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, who's blowing a golden opportunity to show city voters she has the managerial moxie to be mayor. These are pols who would rather block Stroger's efforts than stand up and say they want tax increases to pay for their expenses.

Here's a new shocker for the holdouts: Treasurer Maria Pappas, who has been trimming her fiefdom for years, says she has offered Stroger cost cuts and revenue increases that, taken together, will curb her budget request for 2007 by 37 percent. When Pappas took office in 1999, her budget was $11.4 million. Eight years later, she's asking Stroger for less than $10 million. In the same time frame, she says she has driven her office's budgeted headcount from 250 down to just 129.

Maybe Pappas will give lessons to Devine, Dart, Brown and other county officials on how to let new technologies streamline their procedures, and how to identify new sources of revenue. She has told about 50 of her top non-union people they won't get raises this year; those workers, she says, know they have good jobs with generous benefits. "The county has hiked salaries by 52 percent since 1998," Pappas says. "The reason some officials are having trouble getting to 17 percent [budget cuts] is that they've hired all these employees and given them all these raises and cost-of-living adjustments."

Maria Pappas, Gene Moore and, before that, Public Defender Edwin Burnette. Taxpayers should take note of who knows how to manage costs versus who wants to protect jobs and programs outside their offices' legally mandated missions.

The holdouts hope Stroger will cave. If he does, he'll leave Pappas, Moore and Burnette looking like chumps for offering cuts that others didn't have to put on the table. The holdouts certainly don't expect Stroger to be a man of his word when he says he'll balance the budget without raising taxes.

But each time a Burnette, Moore or Pappas cooperates with Stroger, the remaining holdouts risk looking all the more incapable.

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