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Suffredin's Sneaking Suspicion

Friday, February 06, 2009
Progress Illinois
by Angela Caputo

It’s anyone’s guess what will come out of the Cook County board meeting on Monday, but Commissioner Larry Suffredin tells us he’s prepared for a showdown.

The Evanston-based commissioner caught wind that something was up when a meeting was abruptly called off on Wednesday because not all of the board members could make it.

“If they’re all that anxious to make sure that all the votes are there,” Suffredin told us this morning, “then they’re going to try to jam something through.”

That "something" is probably board president Todd Stroger’s $370 million bond sale proposal, which the Civic Federation recently described as "extraordinary and irresponsible." As we’ve noted before, a handful of reform-minded commissioners (namely Suffredin, Mike Quigley, and Forest Claypool) are out to block what they see as a Stroger administration "friends and family" spending binge. We've previously pointed out how Stroger is acting rather desperately, literally trying to scare up support for the deal by falsely claiming that the pension fund is broke and self-insurance fund tapped.

In a refreshing sign of good government, the reformers attempted to beat back Stroger’s argument earlier this week.

The trio introduced a budget amendment to free up $66 million by trimming administrative supply budgets, claiming unused turnover pay, and recouping Medicaid reimbursements. After crunching the numbers, Suffredin also suspects that Stroger’s finance team is low-balling revenue projections from the historic sales tax hike approved last year to the tune of $20 million. Based on their conservative estimate, the county should have at least an extra $86 million on-hand next year, and that money could be used to invest in the pension and insurance funds.

But will the finance committee even consider the proposal? If Suffredin’s hunch is right, Stroger’s planning to pull a fast one and discharge Monday’s finance committee to bring the bond sale before the full board. With Commissioner John Daley likely to recuse himself (he does business with a company slated to work on the bond deal), Stroger could cast the tie breaking vote.

There are less than three weeks left to settle on a budget, so the clock is ticking for the county board. “We don’t know what the plan is,” Suffredin tells us.

Stay tuned for more news on Monday.

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