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Stroger Tries To Scare Up Some Cash

Monday, November 24, 2008
Progress Illinois
by Angela Caputo

During his six years on the Cook County board, Commissioner Larry Suffredin has seen his fair share of malfeasance, manipulation, and all around lousy governance. But according to a statement he sent out Friday, this week marked “a new low.”

The north suburban commissioner used that language after learning that Board President Todd Stroger’s administration recently sent out a letter warning current and former county employees that the pension fund is broke and jobs are on the line -- all part of an effort to scare up support for a questionable $740 million bond proposal. (Click the image to the right to read the letter from pension fund director Daniel Dengan.)

Suffredin’s office responded: “The Cook County Pension Fund is currently the best funded public pension fund in Illinois. Current pension benefits are not in jeopardy.”

Regardless, the scare tactics appear to have had the desired effect. Retirees flooded commissioners’ phone lines late last week to express their support for Stroger’s economic plan, which we wrote about back in September.

Tomorrow, the much-anticipated 2009 budget will be rolled out, which should shed some light on the true state of the county’s finances. Considering that the recent sales-tax increase is estimated to generate an additional $426 million per year, it’s not likely that the county is as broke as Stroger claims.

So what’s he up to? The Tribune lays out one all-too-familiar scenario:

Critics say the warnings are taken from a worn political playbook often used by Stroger and his late father, John, who also ran the county. By claiming a crisis, Stroger secures more money to reward financial consultants with bond deals and constituents with jobs, all to beef up his campaign fund and power base, the critics allege.

“These are all political games, and they are all designed to try to force the board to give Todd Stroger hundreds of millions of dollars to cover up his mismanagement of the county before the 2010 election,” said Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago).

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