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Stroger snubs county commissioners seeking cuts

Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County Board President John Stroger will push for a 2 percent hike in taxes before he'll cut 2 percent from his budget, commissioners groused Monday as the county's budget drama entered another week.

The commissioners complained after Stroger skipped a budget meeting called to push for 2 percent cuts in department budgets to avoid raising hotel and restaurant taxes 2 percent.

Stroger barred hospital officials from coming to Monday's meeting.

With hospital budgets totaling almost $1 billion, a 2 percent cut would wipe out about a third of the county's $73 million projected budget deficit.

"I strongly suggested they be here to defend where they are on this budget," said county finance chairman John Daley. "They were instructed not to come."

Commissioner Tony Peraica said it was "highly disrespectful" and "absolutely inappropriate" for Stroger to instruct staff not to show up, while Commissioner Mike Quigley said "it's shading on a degree of arrogance."

Quigley said Stroger hasn't secured the votes for a tax increase, so "it's doubly insulting" for him to resist budget alternatives.

"We can't say let's not raise taxes, but let's not cut costs," Commissioner Peter Silvestri said.

Stroger spokeswoman Caryn Stancik said Stroger is "tired of balancing the budget on the backs of the Bureau of Health. He's eliminated 2,000 jobs since he took office, 90 percent of them at the Bureau of Health, while other elected officials have given less than 1 percent of their [jobs]."

Stroger's snub led to a chorus of others -- Board of Review chairman Larry Rogers Jr., Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown and State's Attorney Richard Devine -- taking turns explaining why they can't cut more from their budgets.

Quigley mocked there would be "chaos in the universe" if they cut, while Peraica added "the public will be much more offended if we go back to them and pick their pockets one more time."

Devine said he'll hold his budget against anyone's, taking a shot at Stroger's hospital administration where there are multiple public relations and human resources staffs.

A budget must be passed by Feb. 28. Commissioners warned that if officials don't cut, they will.

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