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Health system budget could be trimmed by 20 percent

Thursday, August 13, 2009
Chi-Town Daily News
by Alex Parker

The Cook County hospital system could boost its 2010 revenue by as much as $60 million, but still faces county budget cuts of up to $52 million.

The cuts in funding result from a mandate from County Board President Todd Stroger that all county-funded agencies present three fiscal year 2010 budget scenarios, two of which take into account possible sales tax rollbacks.

Stroger asked that one budget incorporate a 12 percent reduction from 2009 levels, to account for a possible rollback of the one cent sales tax, which some county commissioners oppose. Another calls for a 19 percent reduction to account for a possible one-half cent reduction in the sales tax and the county’s fulfillment of missed pension payments from 2007.

In the latter scenario, Cook County Health and Hospital System spokesman Lucio Guerrero says, the health system opted to cut 19 percent of the funds it receives from the county.

The health system board, he said, “feels that we should be given credit for some of the money we’ve been able to secure.”

Opponents to the one-percent sales tax voted for the third time to rescind it last month. Stroger responded by vetoing the rollback. It will take 14 of the 17 commissioners to overrule Stroger; the board next meets Sept. 1.

If the opponents fail to overturn the veto, the health system's budget scenario would be moot.

However, by reducing its funding requests from the county, the health system would not have to relinquish any of its profits to fund other county operations should the rollback be sustained.

“You keep what you earn,” said health system finance committee chairman David Carvalho at yesterday’s board meeting.

“Obviously, we are always going to have needs from the County but the Board felt that money secured from other areas (feds, grants, etc) for healthcare that doesn’t come from County taxpayers shouldn’t be included in the reduction,” Guerrero said in an email.

Other board members, however, said that was not a fair assessment, since the county has in the past contributed money when the health system needed it.

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