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Stroger has the votes for cuts

Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger flexed his legislative muscle Tuesday, parading out 10 county commissioners — a majority of the board — who say they will support his 17 percent budget cuts.
“It is a cut that is long overdue,” said Finance Committee Chairman John Daley. “The finance team warned us two years ago.”
Joining Daley were nine other commissioners: Gregg Goslin, Tim Schneider, Mike Quigley, Tony Peraica, William Beavers, Joan Murphy, Deborah Sims, Pete Silvestri, Robert Steele, each of whom pledged that if elected officials like the state’s attorney and sheriff don’t cut 17 percent themselves, the commissioners will do it for them.
“I do not hear any of these elected officials supporting taxes (in lieu of cutting),” said Daley.
“We knew this day was going to come,” said Sims, of Chicago.
“It is the day of reckoning,” echoed Peraica.
Not everybody was on board, however. Absent was Forrest Claypool of Chicago.
“It’s unbelievable to me that 10 commissioners would stand up and give a blank check to a budget they haven’t even seen,” Claypool said. “Why do we need them if they’re going to endorse whatever the president wants to do without seeing what the specifics are?”
Claypool was referring to the fact that Stroger has yet to issue a budget, an event set for next week.
Quigley, of Chicago, acknowledged that 17 percent across-the-board cuts were less than ideal, and that a budget reduction of that magnitude should take place over three to four years. But, he said, “we don’t have that kind of time.”
Claypool said commissioners should ensure that Stroger cuts bloated management ranks of patronage workers before laying off front-line workers.
Also Tuesday, Stroger held a press conference with Dr. Robert Simon, the new interim chief of the health bureau.
Simon acknowledged that some county health clinics would close and there would be layoffs to reduce the budget.
“Many people … will have to lose their jobs,” he said.
In addition, the speed at which he has to make cuts is going to lead to some mistakes and mean that some of what they close now may have to be reopened later.
But his main goal, he said, is working to ensure that even with the cuts, there is still a strong network of care throughout the county.
“I don’t want to see poor people without any place to go,” Simon said.
And some of the clinics now operating see only an average of seven to 12 patients a day, whereas in private practice, doctors usually schedule four patients an hour.
“Should that (low-volume) clinic be funded?” Simon asked rhetorically.
He gave assurances that no county hospital will close but said there will be “substantial downsizing” of services at some of them.”
Simon didn’t say which services, but in a report he issued to previous board President Bobbie Steele, Simon suggested shutting down redundant services at either Stroger Hospital or Provident Hospital, such as obstetrics, and moving them to the other hospital.
He also did not specify how many people will be laid off and which clinics will be closed.


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