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Stroger, Daley--and 'chicken'

Friday, November 30, 2007
Chicago Tribune
Editorial

Why is Todd Stroger obeying his inner Blagojevich -- trying to revive a dead-on-arrival tax plan that infuriates voters? Why is John Daley complicit in Stroger's game of "chicken" with the Cook County Board? And why do these two officials expect taxpayers to give one more cent to an agenda that Stroger advanced, Daley echoed and both of them failed to deliver?

Boil down Stroger's budget histrionics this week, and you find this thin gristle: I have the courage to increase taxes, and County Board members don't. Boil down Daley's lecture to his Finance Committee of the whole and you find this ultimatum: If you county commissioners don't want to increase taxes, then you find $200 million Friday to cut from Stroger's proposed $3 billion-plus budget.

Translation: We want you, County Board members, to make the cuts so we don't have to do our jobs as executives. Then you can take the blame.
***

No. Stroger's job is to draft a budget that will deliver honest services efficiently at a price Cook County taxpayers can afford.This is a miserable moment for Stroger and Daley to be pushing for more revenue from taxpayers -- and not just because property tax bills are coming due. Open a newspaper, and you're liable to find more of the advanced mopery for which county government is now renowned:

* Thursday's Tribune reported that cashier stations in the office of county Recorder Eugene Moore sprouted Christmas stockings with photocopies of $1 bills above them. As in: Wouldn't you like to tip the county cashier who can process your paperwork promptly or leave you standing there like a rooftop Santa? Moore's chief deputy, Darlena Williams-Burnett, initially confided to the Tribune: "I manage a bunch of knuckleheads on a daily basis." And we have way too many of them, she might add.

* Last weekend, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Maria Moreno Szafarczyk, the sister of County Board member Joseph Mario Moreno, lost her $88,000-a-year job at the county's Juvenile Detention Center only to land a county Bureau of Health job that by miraculous coincidence pays $88,000 a year. Her new job is so crucial that it had been vacant since March. The paper noted that county officials "were unaware of any health-care experience in Szafarczyk's background but argued she didn't need any in her managerial role." Just as county officials were unaware of any juvenile justice experience before Stroger & Co. clouted her into the Juvenile Detention Center. But that's OK. She's somebody's sister.

* Yes, that's the same Eugene Moore who's up for re-election and the same Bureau of Health that hasn't bothered to collect health reimbursements by the bazillions. But as the papers also will tell you, Stroger says County Board members who won't support his tax increases to fund this kind of nonsense are "afraid." More likely, they're waiting for Stroger and Daley to show whether they're men of their word. Or not.

Stroger famously swore a "solemn oath" to "transform this government into a more modern, more efficient operation." He also pledged to convene a summit of civic and business leaders to streamline his government and to reduce the payroll -- not increase it, as he now proposes.

Daley, in his response to a 2006 Tribune editorial board endorsement questionnaire, wrote: "Taxes should be raised only as a last resort and not before savings measures are implemented through consolidation and efficiency gains."

***

Stroger, Daley and the County Board could have used this year to make all those noble words mean something. Daley could have insisted -- under pain of refusing to endorse a bloated Stroger tax-and-spend budget for 2008 -- that Stroger devote 2007 to restructuring Cook County.

But that would have meant dismantling Stroger and Daley's patronage fiefdoms, canceling insider contracts and delivering legislation to downsize their blubbery government.

Instead, the operative phrase today is the one Daley uttered Sept. 5, 2002, when the board confronted its failed oversight of the county's scandal-plagued and financially moribund Forest Preserve District: "We've known it," Daley confessed, "and we haven't done jack."



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