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STATEMENT OF COMMISSIONER LARRY SUFFREDIN ON 2008 BUDGET PASSAGE
Sunday, March 02, 2008 Northwest Herald
At midnight on February 29th President Stroger was threatening to shut down Cook County Government unless his sales tax increase passed. I voted for a compromise that I believe offered the best chance for reforming Cook County and insuring that all vital services continued. †Iím not totally happy about the compromise but it was a case of choosing the lesser of two evils.
As you are aware, President Stroger has been working for months to impose a sales tax increase to fund the countyís budget.† I have fought hard to stop that increase, because I do not believe a tax is necessary.† We should reduce our spending to make government more efficient and avoid the tax.† I presented many ideas to stop a tax increase that were voted down by the Commissioners supporting President Stroger.
Without the compromise, President Stroger would have totally shut down all services of the County government Ė including hospitals, courts and the County Jail Ė which would have adversely affected all citizens, especially the most vulnerable.† It would also have opened the County to huge financial liability for damages to those who would have† been injured by such a dangerous move.
I chose to prevent such a tragedy by negotiating a compromise with President Stroger just before the midnight deadline for passing a County budget.† He initially had insisted on a 2% increase in the County sales tax.† I agreed to support only half that amount in return for a major concession on the part of the President.†
This was the agreement to have the President give up control of the Bureau of Health. The Bureau is the largest unit of County government and is responsible for most of our current financial problems. The key to the compromise was transfer of control to run the Bureau of Health to a newly created independent Governance Board.† Political considerations in hiring and contracting at the Bureau have led to continuing financial shortfalls for the five years Iíve been on the County Board.† The Presidentís office has continued to use this important health resource as a piggybank for jobs and contracts to serve political needs rather than those of our citizens.† Last year President Stroger and Dr. Robert Simon, his director of health services, closed clinics and caused thousands of patients to look for health care elsewhere.† This act put an unsustainable financial and service burden on non-county hospitals and clinics, which can ultimately result in higher medical costs to all citizens.
The independent Governance Board will for the first time allow Cook County health services to be run by health administration professionals who will know how to deliver services efficiently and† to bill and collect for those services in a timely manner.† Dr. Simon will be replaced by an appointee of the independent Board.
That was my compromise:† a vote for a sales tax reduced to 1% in return for President Stroger surrendering his control of the Bureau of Health and all its patronage jobs and contracts.† In the long run this will save Cook County taxpayers millions of dollars and provide the health care services our citizens deserve.
I was elected to the County Board to reform this government.† I have no apology for my latest decision and my vote for what I think will bring about the most long-lasting true reform. You have my firm commitment to continue fighting to control spending, improve management and working to cut back on these taxes, which I fundamentally believe are not the right solution to running our government.