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Preckwinkle presents new CFO, girds for budget battle

Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Daily Herald
by Ted Cox

In presenting her new chief financial officer, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle delivered an implicit ultimatum to her fellow countywide elected officials: Cut budgets 21 percent across the board this week, or she’ll do it for them.

“We’re required to submit a balanced budget,” she said. “We hope for their help and cooperation. And we’ll submit a balanced budget whether or not we get their help and cooperation.”

Preckwinkle set a Thursday deadline for other elected officials to make the cuts she’s asked to make up an estimated $487 million deficit in the $3 billion county budget. Most countywide elected officials have already agreed to cut their budgets 16 percent annually, 21 percent with the shortened fiscal year as the 2011 budget is passed at the end of the first quarter.

Yet Sheriff Tom Dart and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez have not publicly committed to making the cuts.

Both have pleaded the fixed costs of law enforcement, with Dart citing the court-ordered requirement to actually add officers at the Cook County Jail as part of a lawsuit settlement.

“We believe they can (make cuts), and we have to make them in order to make the budget balance,” Preckwinkle said. “We asked for shared sacrifice. ... No one will be alone, and no one will be absolved.”

Preckwinkle has set a Thursday deadline for departmental budgets. Hearings begin next week as Preckwinkle prepares to submit a proposed budget at a county board meeting Feb. 1. By law, it has to be passed by the end of the first quarter next month.

“The county’s 2011 budget will take center stage for the next six weeks,” Preckwinkle said in announcing the appointment of former Chicago comptroller Tariq Malhance as her chief financial officer. “The public is counting on us to deliver a responsible budget in the short term and a new sustainable model for the way we utilize their tax dollars over the long term. We’re working diligently toward those goals,” she added, and Malhance is key to that.

“Our first order of business is to submit a balanced budget and insure that it is approved by the end of February,” said the 66-year-old Malhance, who worked on Chicago’s $6 billion budget as city comptroller from 2002 to 2005.

Malhance served 25 years in public finances with Chicago, where he first worked with Preckwinkle as a Hyde Park alderman. Since retiring in 2005, he has been senior vice president of private equity of Unicorn Investment Bank and president of UIB Capital.

In spite of the current budget deficit, Malhance echoed Preckwinkle’s pledge to “roll back the county’s sales tax,” to the previous 0.75 percent, after Preckwinkle’s predecessor, Todd Stroger, raised it a full percentage point, an increase cut in half last year.

Malhance’s salary was set at $176,000, which is what previous CFO Jaye Williams received before getting a raise of more than $50,000. “We’re going to bring that salary back in line,” said Preckwinkle’s Chief of Staff Kurt Summers Jr.

Preckwinkle said that was typical of the Stroger administration, which padded a $2.3 million budget for personnel out to $2.9 million. Because of that, she said, she was cutting personnel in the president’s office by $1 million to get to the required level of reductions.

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