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Claypool spars with Cook County health director

Thursday, October 25, 2007
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead | Daily Herald Staff

Cook County Bureau of Health chief Robert Simon squared off against Commissioner Forrest Claypool on radio Tuesday, challenging Claypool to specify where he'd cut the county budget instead of raising taxes.
The radio showdown was the culmination of a challenge Simon put to health-department critic Claypool, and came a day after Simon reported on the positive effects of changes he has implemented at the health bureau.
In the debate, Claypool pointed out that the bureau employs at least 90 donors to Todd Stroger and the 8th Ward, but didn't specify departments or positions that could be cut.
"We really shouldn't even be in this situation to begin with," Claypool said when asked on WBEZ-FM 91.5 what he'd cut. "We showed last year what the alternative could be. Commissioners sponsored an alternative budget that would have slashed patronage jobs and redundant bureaucracy throughout the health care system."
Simon responded that Claypool's decisions in budget cutting would have cut in the wrong places, cutting administrative support for important programs that treat cancer, diabetes and heart disease while leaving in place less critical programs like occupational health that saw fewer than 400 new patients a year.
Claypool insisted that was incorrect, that those proposed administrative cuts left in place doctors, but cut patronage administrators.
Simon reminded listeners that the health bureau has a 6-to-1 ratio of workers to administrators, which is on par or better than most health care institutions, he said.
Claypool emphasized three independent studies have recommended taking control of the health bureau away from Stroger's administration and that the bureau is not collecting all the Medicaid funding it can.
Simon agreed, and said he endorses the concept of an independent board. But, he pointed out, the latest of those studies said that even if commissioners did that, and even if all the Medicaid funding that could be collected was collected, that would still leave the system short of funding.
"So, just one more time: Specifically, where is the waste?" WBEZ host Gabriel Spitzer asked of Claypool.
Claypool again referred to last year's budget proposal by commissioners.
Meanwhile, Stroger pitched his budget Wednesday to the City Club of Chicago and pushed once again for his 2 percentage point increase in the county sales tax.
Stroger publicly chastised Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine for complaining loudly during the year that his attorneys weren't being paid enough but being silent now on a tax increase to pay for those hikes.
Devine's staff responded that he has no problem stumping for a tax hike if it's one that's reasonable.
"For months now, the state's attorney has said that he would support finding the resources needed to support the (cost of living adjustments) and parity granted by the board. But he has also questioned, directly to the president, the approach of raising more revenue than we need," Devine spokesman John Gorman said.
Gorman was referring to the fact that Stroger's sales tax would raise about $750 million in new taxes in 2009, even though the budget deficit for 2008 is only $239 million. Stroger said he needs the larger amount so he doesn't have to keep coming back to taxpayers each year for "patchwork" taxes. He pledges to give back to taxpayers any extra money collected.
Also Wednesday, Cook County Inspector General Joseph Price was among those presenting his budget to commissioners for review.
Price, much maligned as a see-no-evil inspector general in a building that federal agents raided repeatedly last year, was supposed to be removed by Stroger as part of his campaign promises.
Asked at the City Club why Price is still in office, Stroger replied his staff was working on it.
"My counsel had a meeting last week with the bar associations (who are supposed to nominate replacement candidates), and they're working on the time frame and the scope and once that's done, they'll be moving full force," Stroger said.

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