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Todd Stroger's 'solemn oath'

Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Chicago Tribune

"[T]oday we are brought together by a shared goal -- and for me, a solemn oath -- to reshape our county government, and to have the courage and resolve to make bold changes. ... We will transform this government into a more modern, more efficient operation. To get there, the transitions will be tough, the sacrifices -- painful. The dramatic change -- worth it." -- Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's inaugural address, Dec. 4, 2006

That was just one of Todd Stroger's many promises to streamline the $3 billion basket case that is Cook County government. At 1:15 a.m. on Feb. 23, as county commissioners moved closer to approval of a budget for 2007, Stroger just couldn't be any more sincere: He would quickly convene a summit of civic and business leaders to reorganize county government. Stroger at least pretended to understand that doing nothing, and then proposing tax hikes for 2008, would brand him as a total incompetent.

Yet here we are, edging toward the start of a budget year that begins Dec. 1, and Stroger is playing footsie with the idea of tax increases. On Monday the County Board will consider raising sales taxes by 2 percentage points. Other proposals are bubbling up from the board: a natural gas tax, an electricity tax, additional tobacco taxes ... you get the picture.

Here stands the same Todd Stroger who promised that more modern, more efficient operation, with summit meetings and smart minds and painful sacrifices. So what happened? A big push to have the County Board unravel some of the duplication and sclerosis for which the county is infamous? No. A similarly big push in Springfield to legislate reforms that require state approval? Nope. Instead Stroger has devoted most of this year to putting more friends and family members on the county payroll.

And here stands Todd Stroger, having not yet proposed a 2008 budget, but scoping out how much new revenue he can collect. As if to say: Once we know how much we can get, we'll let you know how we intend to spend it. Rather than the other way around.

A government whose house is not in order hasn't earned the public's trust. And without that trust, that government can't ask taxpayers for more money.

As is, nobody trusts Cook County or the people who run it. And why should they?

Stroger promised streamlining. He didn't deliver. Now, surprise of surprises, estimates of the county's anticipated budget shortfall generally run from $300 million to more than $400 million. When you don't fix things, they tend to stay broken. This should have been the year that the man with all the promises -- the man with the solemn oath -- fixed Cook County government. Remember Stroger bragging during last year's campaign that he had grown up at his father's knee, learning how things work? Remember his pledge to cut the county workforce to 22,000?

And, remember this marvelous passage from that Dec. 4 inaugural speech?

"We must reduce excess staffing. We must eliminate waste. We must restore faith in this government. We must and we will take bold steps. ... Make no mistake. I am here to bring real change. ... Anything less than action rooted in truth will be insufficient."

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