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Board votes to keep county running on expired budget

Thursday, December 02, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County Board President John Stroger won permission to keep the government going on last year's budget even though the new fiscal year started Wednesday and Stroger has not even offered a budget proposal yet.

Stroger beat back an attempt by the board's opposition bloc to force him into month-to-month budget approval.

During one shouting match, Stroger told erstwhile ally Larry Suffredin he hoped someday the commissioner would run for board president to see how difficult it is to put together a budget.

"I hope I do, too, 'cause I hope I'm running against you," Suffredin said.

"I hope you do, too, 'cause I'll beat you like I beat the others," Stroger said to the applause of his loyalists.

Yearly lag

Despite the increased difficulties Stroger faces in getting his budgets passed, and the fact he is holding them back later every year, Stroger, 76, apparently has not ruled out a fourth term. This is his 10th year as president, and he appears to have recovered from quadruple heart bypass surgery two years ago.

Should he retire, County Board Finance Chairman John Daley, Sheriff Michael Sheahan, Assessor Jim Houlihan and other board members have been mentioned as potential replacements. But few want to take him on head on.

Earlier this year, Stroger warned of a $250 million deficit. Through whittles here and there, including the latest $40 million in additional expected federal funding for poor patients treated in county hospitals, Stroger says the deficit is now down to $100 million.

Search for balance

His staff is looking at several new taxes or cuts to balance the budget. Many commissioners told Stroger on Wednesday they would be loath to vote for any tax hikes.

Last year, for the first time, nine commissioners on the 17-member board refused to support his budget, forcing Stroger to make an extra $5 million in cuts and scrap plans for a new lease tax and a sales tax hike.

On Wednesday, some of those nine members voted with Stroger, saying that month-to-month budgeting could lower the county's status in the eyes of the bond-rating agencies.

Stroger said he has been meeting with elected officials in county government, urging them to cut their budgets, including Sheahan. "I just told him we can't continue to let that office grow by leaps and bounds without control," Stroger said.

Sheahan seeks $30 million in addition funding, including 200 new jail guards.

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