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10% budget cuts would be a disaster, Cook County officials tell board
Finance panel chief says cuts inevitable

Thursday, December 20, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

One by one, Cook County officials on Wednesday described a dim future for the public if the County Board forces them to cut spending by 10 percent.

Patients will die, the head of the health system warned. Criminals could run free, State's Atty. Richard Devine said.

After the seven hours of grim testimony on the impact of 10 percent across-the-board cuts before the board's Finance Committee, Chairman John Daley (D-Chicago) said commissioners were finished with budget meetings for the year.
Daley said he would like to push for a budget vote during the first full week in January, although the board still appears far from a compromise as the end-of-February deadline looms.

Most of Wednesday's responses were predictable -- one commissioner dubbed the meeting "a circus" -- as every county elected official appeared before the committee, along with several department heads, to plead their case.

"A 10 percent reduction would destroy the Bureau of Health," said Dr. Robert Simon, the interim health chief and an appointee of board President Todd Stroger.

"I will not cut even 1 percent ... and if I'm forced to do so, the president will have my resignation, and he and you will have to find someone to do it because it unconscionable," Simon said. "It means that people will die."

Clerk David Orr and Treasurer Maria Pappas, whose offices are among the county's smallest dollarwise, offered up new funding sources to help close the overall projected $238 million deficit for next year but did not suggest further reducing their expenditures.

The session was called last week after board members again balked at raising taxes to balance the budget. The board is at an impasse over Stroger's proposed $3.2 billion budget as he has failed to line up enough votes to pass his 2-percentage-point sales-tax increase.

Stroger said again Wednesday that he would consider dropping his sales-tax request to a 1.5-percentage-point increase. He said his financial team will make the rounds talking to commissioners to see if they can find a compromise.

But Daley reiterated that he believes the board will not support any sales-tax increase. Daley warned the other county elected officials that the board may be forced to cut their budgets.

"This is no bluff whatsoever," Daley said. "I ... do not believe there's any support whatsoever for taxes. So get ready because we are not kidding. ... I'm telling you, this is not a game."

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