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Stroger’s Budget

Friday, February 16, 2007
Special to
by Melissa Paulik

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger has stuck to his word; he did not propose raising taxes.  Instead, he cut what some call vital services to the county.  Last month he revealed his executive budget recommendation that demonstrated a balanced $3 billion plan. 
Stroger’s intentions were to balance the budget without raising taxes.  “We do this by living within our means, attacking government bloat wherever we find it, and by demanding higher standards so that the delivery of vital services is not only maintained, but improved,” said Stroger in his Jan. 16 press release.
Stroger’s proposal included employment cuts to the Cook County Sheriffs Office, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Public Defenders Office amongst other offices.
The public affairs director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Illinois called Council 31, Anders Lindall, said Stroger’s budget proposal is a devastating cut to core county services, not improvements to the services.  AFSCME is a nationwide labor union that represents some of the public service workers who would lose their jobs under Stroger’s plan.
Lindall said Cook County’s main systems and responsibilities are health care, public safety and the court system.  “The proposal strikes at the heart of the integrity of each of these systems,” said Lindall.
“The public safety fund and public health fund are under attack at the same time,” said Cook County Comm. Larry Suffredin (D-13th).  Suffredin said if the proposal was accepted as is, the state’s attorneys office would no longer be able to prosecute misdemeanor cases and would have to cut felony indictments in half because they would not have the staff to deal with the  case load. 
“A lot of people who are guilty of crimes will go free because we just can’t prosecute them, and the public defender’s office will have people suing us for not providing effective assistance of counsel,” said Suffredin.
Stroger’s budget would “throw county courts into chaos, undermine our justice system and lay off people who are on the front lines doing the work Cook County citizens’ need,” said Lindall. 
County workers fired and criminals going free in Illinois are the unfortunate outcomes AFSCME is predicting if Stroger’s budget is accepted.
Stroger has sent letters to the Public Defenders Office stating the attorneys and clerical staff will only work four days a week and only three days a week ten weeks out of the year under his proposal, said Lindall. 
“That’s a recipe for total chaos,” said Lindall.  “It is simply not possible in the court system for an attorney to attend a trial and say to the judge and client, ‘I’m sorry I can’t be here tomorrow because Todd Stroger says I can’t work.’”
Stroger’s work-week cuts are in violation of the county’s labor contract with AFSCME, said Lindall.  The labor union is pursuing every legal tool at its disposal to fight the changes.
The Cook County Board has until the end of February to produce a budget.  Suffredin said the commissioners will take care of the issues and the budget will not seem as bad as it appears now. 

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