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Preckwinkle: All county leaders must share in 21% spending cuts

Thursday, November 18, 2010
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

Working to close an estimated $487 million budget gap as she prepares to take office, Cook County Board President-elect Toni Preckwinkle told county leaders they’ll have to share in the painful 21 percent spending cuts next year.

“I talked to the separately elected officials, and I made it abundantly clear that no one would be absolved in making cuts, and no one would be alone in making cuts,” Preckwinkle told reporters at her Loop transition office, after hosting a lunch there with the 11 separately elected leaders, ranging from Sheriff Tom Dart to Treasurer Maria Pappas.

The nearly $500 million deficit is at the high end of projections her transition team had been warning her about in months before the November election.

But with the help of financial experts in the public and private sector, along with Commissioner John Daley, the powerful head of the County Board’s Finance Committee, Preckwinkle says the numbers are starting to crystallize — and it’s going to be tough on taxpayers and county employees alike.

Slashing the remainder of that unpopular sales tax hike championed by outgoing Board President Todd Stroger — who was bested by Preckwinkle in the Democratic primary last February — will be on the back burner until 2012. And with a $3 billion government operation whose 24,000 employees make up 80 percent of the budget, layoffs are inevitable, observers say.

“We’re going to be talking to the labor unions about the contribution that they can make to helping us deal with the terrible problems we’ve got,” Preckwinkle said, standing with Daley and Kurt Summers Jr., her  soon-to-be chief of staff.

Pappas, said to be feisty during the meeting, told the Sun-Times: “She wants us to cut 21 percent. Look, we have already cut 52 percent of our employees — our revenues are up $25 million.”

But at the end of the day, she, Dart and others said there was an air of cooperation at the meeting.

“We’ve committed to working closely with her transition team and will continue that cooperation as she begins the unenviable task of balancing this budget,” Steve Patterson, the sheriff’s spokesman, said in a statement.

He pointed out that the sheriff’s office is under a federal court order to hire corrections officers, something Preckwinkle said she understands.

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