Cook County Board President
Todd Stroger presented what he described as a balanced, $3 billion
budget with no new taxes Thursday and asked county commissioners to
"break from the past" and approve it before the 2010 fiscal year begins
Yet the spending plan ran into immediate resistance
from suburban Republicans, and others pointed to how it makes no
allowances to roll back the county sales tax.
"Cook County can and will hold the line on new taxes,"
Stroger said. "Like last year, my budget recommendation for 2010
proposes no new taxes - none."
Critics, however, pointed to how last year the county
more than doubled its sales tax, hiking it a full penny on the dollar
to 1.75 percent, making any new taxes unnecessary.
"The county's flush with cash," said Commissioner
Timothy Schneider, a Bartlett Republican. "Well, yeah, we're flush with
cash, because we've robbed from the taxpayers with this egregious sales
"The taxpayers of Cook County should be entitled to a
rebate," said Riverside Republican Commissioner Tony Peraica, pledging,
"The reduction of the Cook County sales tax will pass."
The sales tax paid in Cook County _ now at 10.25
percent in the city _ remains the biggest blockade to development and
yet the budget gives no consideration to reducing it, said Laurence
Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a nonpartisan government
"This appears to be a status-quo budget that benefits
from the sales tax," he said, despite a push by state lawmakers and
county residents to reduce the tax.
Attempts to roll back the sales tax on the county board
failed by a single vote to override Stroger's veto over the summer,
leading the General Assembly to consider rival proposals to lower the
requirement for an override on the board from four-fifths to a more
customary three-fifths majority during its current veto session. One
proposal would take effect immediately, another in 2011. Suburban
Republican Commissioners Schneider, Peraica and Liz Gorman of Orland
Park have already sponsored ordinances to roll back the sales tax a
half or a full percent, but the earliest any rollback could take effect
would be next July.
Jaye Morgan Williams, the county's chief financial
officer, said the 2010 budget would only fall short two months if the
immediate rollback passed. Yet it would force significant cuts in the
2011 budget and implementation at the end of 2010. She said a $400
million cut - the estimated cost of a 1 percent rollback - would be
about a quarter of the alterable budget, given the county's mandated
Stroger said that would mean massive cuts to the hospitals budget, right off the bat.
He said his $3 billion overall budget proposal includes
$2.3 billion in general spending, up $80 million or 3.6 percent, which
Stroger attributed to "legal mandates in public safety, contractual
commitments and public-health and public-safety initiatives." He also
claimed it cut 714 positions countywide to bring county employment to
just over 22,000.
Yet Health and Hospitals System officials recently said
they were trimming 950 positions, including 335 announced Thursday.
Stroger and Williams said they couldn't account for exactly how many of
the 714 job cuts were in HHS, although they insisted the number of
county jobs was declining.
"That figure seems a bit suspect to me," Peraica said.
In fact, a budget overview book delivered to the media
cited a total budget of $3.6 billion, with 23,845 employees for the
2010 fiscal year.
Stroger put forth a schedule calling for departmental reviews and board debate leading toward a passage date of Nov. 19.