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Preckwinkle warns: Cut Cook County budget — or I will

Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle issued a warning Tuesday to Sheriff Tom Dart and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez — and anyone else balking at the looming budget cuts: help her swing the budget ax, or she’ll propose the cuts herself.

“We’re obliged to submit a balanced budget, we hope for their help and cooperation and we’ll submit a balanced budget whether or not we get their help and cooperation,” Preckwinkle said during a Tuesday morning news conference.

Currently, she’s working on a 2011 budget proposal for the county’s roughly $3 billion operation and has called for 16 percent spending cuts to wipe out a $487 million deficit. She’s asked the separately elected leaders, including Dart and Alvarez, to submit budgets for their individual offices to reflect the cutbacks.

Assessor Joe Berrios, members of the county’s tax appeals board, Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore along with health and hospitals CEO William Foley agreed to the cuts.

But Dart and Alvarez, along with county Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown — which have traditionally made up roughly one-third of the budget — have politely pushed back, saying their operations already are lean.

Alvarez’s staff has said the office would have to shed dozens of prosecutors, triggering a slowdown in criminal and civil cases moving through the court system. Dart has said he has to comply with a series of court orders — including hiring of correctional officers — making it difficult to meet the cuts.

Preckwinkle begged to differ Tuesday.

“We believe they can” make the cuts, Preckwinkle said. “We’ve asked for shared sacrifice. I think the words early on were that no one would be absolved and no one would be alone in making these cuts.”

Asked whether she’ll go ahead and propose the cuts if other elected officials don’t, Preckwinkle said firmly that the cuts will happen no matter what.

Alvarez spokeswoman Sally Daly said the state’s attorney’s office has submitted budgets and will continue to work with Preckwinkle.

Dart spokesman Steve Patterson said in e-mail: “There’s more than a month until something must be passed and we continue our efforts.”

Preckwinkle will introduce her budget proposal Feb. 1, and county commissioners will have to vote on the plan by Feb. 28.

Preckwinkle said she’s also making cuts in her own office — a move made more difficult by her predecessor. That’s because last year’s budget allotted former County Board President Todd Stroger $2.3 million to cover salaries in offices under his authority — but he ended up exceeding that by $600,000, she said. That’s 26 percent higher than his allocation.

What will be cut in her office?

“Lots of staff positions,” Preckwinkle said.

Her comments came during an unrelated news conference to introduce a former comptroller for the City of Chicago as the county’s new chief financial officer.

Tariq G. Malhance, 66, who worked in city government for 25 years and most recently worked in business, was once part of the Lakefront Independent Democratic Organization — one of Mayor Daley’s political armies which worked to get out the vote along the lakefront. He will be paid a $176,000 salary.



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