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County Board feels heat over budget cuts
Public opposition growing over plans

Friday, January 26, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

With doctors, nurses, police officials and prosecutors all protesting Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's recommended budget cuts, the pressure on the 17 board members who will ultimately vote on a 2007 spending plan is starting to show.

Stroger's chief of staff, Lance Tyson, heard from some of those commissioners Thursday at the board's Finance Committee meeting.

"Everybody's angry with each other, the community is angry with us," said Commissioner Earlean Collins (D-Chicago). "It's going to be hard in this environment for us to come up with anything to satisfy the needs of government and carry out our responsibilities, and at the same time come up with a reasonable balanced budget. You have made it impossible for us to do so."

Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman (R-Orland Park) said she supported spending cuts but thought Stroger would first get rid of the "political hacks."

"It was an opportunity to get rid of the nonsense and the people that weren't pulling their weight," Gorman said.

Tyson said that union contracts specify layoffs must be handled by seniority, forcing the county to let go of the last hires first. He stressed that Stroger, elected in November, walked into a difficult financial situation and that the time frame for budget passage is short.

Stroger has proposed layoffs, closing health clinics and cutting police services as he attempts to bridge a projected deficit of $500 million without raising taxes. An overflow crowd of protesters packed into the Markham courthouse for the first of four public hearings Tuesday evening. A second was set for Thursday in Skokie.

Organized labor and community groups are planning to hold a rally before Monday's public hearing in the County Building downtown.

In between the public hearings, department heads and elected officials have been appearing before the Finance Committee, whose chairman is Commissioner John Daley (D-Chicago). State's Atty. Richard Devine is scheduled to make his case Friday for restoring some of the proposed cuts.

Commissioner Deborah Sims (D-Chicago) who said she had supported Stroger's cuts, now says she cannot vote for a budget that would close two south suburban health clinics.

Sims, first elected in 1994, said Stroger has taken a different approach to the budget than did his father, former board President John Stroger.

"We've never gotten a budget that says, `OK, this is what it is, you guys try to fix it,'" Sims said. "So we're all treading in new waters here."

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