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Cook County workers' jobs depend on balanced budget
Stroger seeks board support for borrowing plan

Thursday, January 29, 2009
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Thousands of county workers could lose their jobs because Cook County Board President Todd Stroger can't persuade enough commissioners to borrow $260 million to balance the budget.

Finance Committee Chairman John Daley (D-Chicago) said Wednesday that Stroger lacks the votes to approve the borrowing, which would cover up to three years of court costs and insurance claims.

"I personally think it all comes to cuts," Daley said.

His comments came after commissioners began looking at slashing up to 6 percent—or more than $85 million—from most areas of Stroger's proposed budget. Such cuts, they hope, would cover one year's worth of court and insurance bills.

About half the cuts would come out of the county's massive public health care system, which would see more than 1,000 employees laid off.

But it's also not clear there are enough votes to pass the cuts, proposed by Commissioner Tony Peraica (R-Riverside).

Commissioners Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) and Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago) noted the county expects more than $300 million in new revenue from a sales tax hike approved last year.

Budget adjustments and "surgical" cuts could balance the budget, without borrowing, they said.

Other thorny budget issues include how to pay a $104 million pension payment and the refusal of union employees to take three furlough days.

Daley also said he would vote present on the proposed borrowing deal to avoid even the appearance of a conflict. His insurance company has done business with Mesirow Financial, the lead adviser on the deal, and his brother William is the Midwest chairman of JP Morgan Chase & Co., a co-manager of the deal.

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