Cook County Board President
Todd Stroger has been roundly criticized for next year's proposed
budget, but in a new report, the Civic Federation says county board
members should share in the brickbats.
It was the county board, after all, that earlier this
year overwhelmingly approved $270 million in union and non-union salary
and benefit increases, the report points out. And the board also
unanimously approved $140 million in other contract increases while
still owing $145 million in sales tax anticipation notes issued this
past summer to limp through the year.
"In sum, Cook County government made huge spending
commitments before considering how to pay for them, an act that is both
reckless and irresponsible," said the report by the federation,
scheduled to be formally released Friday, when Civic Federation
President Lawrence Msall will testify in opposition to the county's
2009 budget proposal.
The report goes on to criticize Stroger's plan to
borrow $364 million to pay for certain operating expenses in the 2009
budget, a position that has been the chief criticism of Stroger's
budget and, as yet, has not garnered the votes to pass.
"We urge the administration to withdraw its spending
proposal and, instead, fund the obligations ... from current receipts.
This may well necessitate spending or personnel reductions, or both."
Donna Dunnings, the county's financial officer, said
she appreciates the federation's concerns, but notes other governments
have borrowed for their self-insurance funds just as the county is
doing. The fund pays for legal judgments and settlements against the
"This is a practice that is done for large
municipalities," said Dunnings. She agrees, however, that the county
should not borrow to pay pension obligations, but that the funding
mechanism was agreed to before she became CFO and she is merely trying
to pay for a legal obligation the county agreed to.