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Cook County still without a budget.

Saturday, December 01, 2007
Daily Herald
by Erin Holmes

In fact, board not even close after it rejects big cuts

Cook County commissioners Friday overwhelmingly shot down a proposal calling for 7 percent across-the-board cuts in county offices -- a result that jibed with the pleas of county workers but put the board no closer to plugging a looming budget hole.

The proposal, backed by four Republican commissioners, was lambasted by other county board members as crude, inefficient and ill-conceived. Supporters, though, argued it was at least a solid step toward erasing what for now remains a roughly $238 million budget shortfall.

The 7 percent cuts would have saved about $95 million.

"We are going to have to cut costs to balance this budget. Period," commissioner and proposal sponsor Gregg Goslin said. "This is an honest, sincere attempt to begin that process."

Commissioner Mike Quigley acknowledged cuts likely loom in the future, but urged cooperation among government offices first to determine what can be sliced -- and where. He denounced the 7 percent across-the-board approach as a waste of time and, because of the sheer volume of the printed-out proposal, a "waste of rainforest."

Until people work together, Quigley told the board, "all we're going to do is run reams of paper through our machines, pass them out and throw them in the recycling bin."

In the meantime, the board appears stalemated.

Though commissioners have repeatedly stressed they have only two options -- beefing up revenue or cutting costs -- little progress actually has been made toward putting the plan back in the black.

Earlier this week, in a lengthy session that stooped to name-calling, shouting and taunting, commissioners haggled for hours before cutting a mere $1 million from the $3 billion budget. Friday's tamer meeting yielded only $100,000 in total
budget savings.

"How many days can we spend cutting $1 million a day?" Commissioner Peter Silvestri asked. "By that mathematical
formula, in 235 days, we'll have a budget."

Silvestri joined Goslin and commissioners Timothy Schneider and Liz Gorman in supporting the 7 percent cuts. Eleven others voted against it, on the heels of presentations from Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown and County Treasurer Maria Pappas, who said such cuts would serve only to devastate services in their already depleted offices.

"That is not a way to balance the budget," Brown told commissioners. "Enough is enough."

Cook County President Todd Stroger has proposed a 2 percentage point sales tax hike to help trim the budget shortfall; that plan also has drawn its share of opposition. The board also plans a hearing on another package of utility taxes -- proposed by Commissioner William Beavers -- for next Thursday or the following Monday.

Beavers on Friday urged support for tax increases, saying something must be done to make inroads in the budget process. In the same breath, he alleged much of the board's bickering has been more about politics than actually balancing the spending plan.

Stroger, who talked with the media Friday for the first time since this week's raucous meeting, also blamed the earlier blow-ups -- which included accusations of racism -- on politics. He remains optimistic the board can work out the budget kinks before January, though, "I think we also realize we're going to be meeting an awful lot," he said.

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