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Stroger’s budget lingo
Economists say ‘target adjustment’ unfamiliar, but not necessarily a bad idea

Thursday, January 18, 2007
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

It’s become the catchphrase on everyone in Cook County government’s lips: “target adjustment.”
The line appears over and over in the county budget, released Tuesday, as a line item quantifying the amount still remaining to be cut from various department budgets.
Of the $112 million Stroger boasted cutting, fully $107 million are “target adjustments,” and most of them are in departments Stroger controls.
Stroger’s critics said the cuts should have been more specific, with the “target adjustment” not a line item, but spread throughout line items, letting people know exactly where Stroger intends to cut. Leaving it vague abdicated his responsibility to present a balanced budget, they said.
Stroger’s team said the newly elected president hasn’t had the time to perform line-by-line cuts, but this, at least, lets each department head know what his or her bottom line of funding will be.
But what do accounting experts say? Is “target adjustment” a best practice in the accounting world?
“Well, I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard of it,” said Relmond Van Danicker, executive director of the Association of Government Accountants.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, he hastened to add.
“I would be a little bit reluctant to criticize too much at this point because (county officials) at least told you where the reductions are, but not the specifics,” Van Danicker said.
County departments may want a specific budget, but with just six weeks left until the budget must be passed, they might value “target adjustments” over getting a completely specific budget just a day or two before it’s to be voted on, he said.
“It is a balancing act,” he said.
John McDonald hasn’t heard of “target adjustments,” either.
“Not that specific term,” said the professor emeritus of economics and finance at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
But he, too, cautioned that unfamiliarity doesn’t mean it’s not a legitimate budgeting device.
“To my mind, if you have to go through this (cutting process), it’s better to have the person who heads up the unit decide” where to cut, he said. Giving each department a “target adjustment” lets them know where they’re headed
The term might be unfamiliar, but the concept isn’t, agreed Dr. Curtis C. Verschoor, the Ledger & Quill research professor in the school of accountancy at DePaul University.
“You could call it something else (like) ‘needed cuts,’ ” Verschoor said.
“It’s not unheard of, but it’s not common,” said Woods Bowman, associate professor of public service management at DePaul.
What is important, said Bowman, who once served as the Cook County chief financial officer under former board President Dick Phelan, is that everybody understands that the line needs to come out of the budget eventually, and the cuts specified before the budget is passed.
“As long as everybody understands that this is a preliminary document and not to be passed in its present form and has to be amended ... then fine,” Bowman said.


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