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The 17 percent solution

Monday, January 15, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
by Todd H. Stroger

A letter to Cook County taxpayers: As your newly elected chief executive officer, I write to share perspectives on the current challenges before Cook County -- your government. As the news media have reported, Cook County faces a $500 million deficit on a $3 billion budget for 2007. I have been in office for just over five weeks, yet the challenges before us are crystal clear.
Together, we stand at a crossroads. Will Cook County government accept the fiscal crisis, or will we use this unprecedented opportunity to reinvent Cook County government and enforce fiscal responsibility and a renewed commitment to public service? Common sense suggests that whether a private citizen, a corporate executive or an elected official, if you spend more than you earn, it's going to catch up with you.
My approach is simple -- perhaps too simple for some critics. I know, however, that it is possible to trim the county's budget while maintaining and improving services to the public.
Across the country, local governments are faced with similar challenges -- meeting the demand for more services to meet the growing need, particularly in health care -- while understanding that we must not increase taxes.
I encourage you to visit Cook County's Web site at www.cookcountygov.com for more details on what Cook County government -- your government -- is all about, and details on how my new administration proposes to balance the 2007 budget.
Increasing taxes is not an option.
I ask for your support in the weeks ahead. Cook County government cannot ask taxpayers to shoulder the burden of a projected $500 million deficit, and at the same time, we cannot cut the vital services upon which hundreds of thousands of people rely.
With these guiding principles in mind, I have requested that all departments under my direct authority -- as well as each of the independently elected offices in Cook County -- submit a budget that reflects a 17 percent reduction from last year's budget. If the deficit is 17 percent of the total budget, it seems practical to use that as a target for reductions in spending. Ultimately, the budget will reflect the best thinking, along with public input, during the budget process between now and the end of February.
My office has requested the submission of a budget with proposed cuts. No final decisions will be made without public dialogue. I am eager to work closely with other countywide elected officials to develop the best solutions possible.
In the weeks ahead, Cook County government has to make some tough choices. I believe that if we work together in good faith, sharpen our pencils and devote the time and energy necessary, we can deliver a budget that fulfills our dual responsibilities to serve the public in the areas of our core mission -- health care, public safety and the court system -- and our commitment and accountability to taxpayers.
Todd H. Stroger, president, Cook County Board of Commissioners



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