Suffredin defends vote switch
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
by Todd Shields
Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-13th, of Evanston said
he voted for the unpopular county sales tax increase last year because
it created an independent Cook County Health Board charged with
revamping the county's financially plagued health-care system.
Last week Suffredin voted with the majority to repeal that 1 cent
sales tax increase, reversing his position less than a year later. The
county sales tax became effective July 1, 2008.
He defended his about-face by saying the federal stimulus money the
county received, as well as the Cook County Health Board's efforts,
were two strong reasons to end the increased county sales tax.
"It was essential getting an independent Health Board. Doing so was
the right vote at the time," Suffredin said. "When I voted for the
sales tax, the county was $286 million in debt. Because of the federal
stimulus package and a new Medicaid agreement with the state, we will
have a $120 million surplus" by the end of the fiscal year, November.
Suffredin also said the Cook County Health Board has reduced
nonmedical Cook County employees by 500, and the board worked to bring
in $60 million more this year in paid medical bills.
However, in a report issued by the chairman of Cook County Health
and Hospital Systems to every commissioner, Warren Batts, said an
in-house study revealed county health-care management lacked "timely
and accurate information" to correct financial problems.
In response, Batts said an informational system will be in place this year, mainly to improve further billing and collecting.
Batts also said the county needed more employees with experience in
informational technology related to health-care systems, along with a
greater investment in computer equipment.
"However, it should be noted that even in this tough economy of
increased layoffs, these specialized IT staff are very hard to come
by," Batts said.
Suffredin believes fellow commissioners could repeal Stroger's veto
with the "yes" votes of commissioners Earlean Collins, D-1st, and
Deborah Simms, D-5th.
Both women did not vote in the commissioners' repeal last week, but
Suffredin said their two votes could override Stroger's veto.
In a statement explaining his veto, Stroger said commissioners were
responsible for years of financial problems in Cook County, and they
voted to repeal the tax in exchange for "political points."
"I refuse to play that game. Somebody has to show leadership," he
stated. "I will not jeopardize the well-being of county residents by
allowing this faction of commissioners to end funding for vital
services and destroy our health and public safety operations."
He argued that rolling back the sales tax would hurt health-care
services -- including closing Provident Hospital and a dozen clinics
that serve poor people.
By Stroger's calculation, that could mean revenue losses of about $300 million.
-- Sun-Times News Group contributed to this story.