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County budget chops 1,700 jobs

Saturday, February 24, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter

Expect longer lines at Cook County hospitals and clinics.

A longer wait when visiting the Circuit Court clerk's offices.

Fewer people prosecuting cases.

And fewer officers in courtrooms or patrolling the county.

That's what county officials say the impact will be after the County Board passed a $3billion budget that whacks 1,700 jobs from the payroll.

That's far fewer than was originally sought by County Board President Todd Stroger, but critics say it's still too heavy on cuts to those who provide basic, but essential, services.

Supporters, though, say it evenly distributes cuts among managers and workers and was the only way to balance the budget and its $500 million deficit without raising taxes.

Lawsuits predicted

Commissioner Mike Quigley -- who surprised some by railing against Stroger last week, then voting with him Friday -- called the support "prudent" but "not popular" because the budget makes some cuts and doesn't raise taxes.

Others scoffed.

"The frontline employees are going to pay the price, and the political patronage employees are going to be untouched," said Commissioner Tony Peraica, adding that some commissioners had "not kept the bond they made with the voters of Cook County" to reduce bloat and patronage.

Though Stroger won his budget battle 13-4, the real vote came earlier as Commissioner Forrest Claypool led an unsuccessful effort to cut more of Stroger's highest-paid management positions.

Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who joined Claypool in engaging in a war of words with Quigley over his support, predicted this budget "will lead to lawsuits" that will cost the county even more.

But Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno says the complaints are "all bulls - - -."

Amid all of the political bickering are workers who now face unemployment, and the poor and uninsured who face reductions in care.

"What are all of these people going to do?" asked Ted Cahill of the National Nurses Organizing Committee.

A Stroger spokesman said that, with the budget battle ended, Stroger plans to meet with the elected officials with whom he battled and conduct community meetings to better explain why cuts were made.

"We'll make a concerted effort to make sure people are not only educated but also fully aware of how he sees this county's future," spokesman Steve Mayberry said.


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