Editorial: Preckwinkle right to demand cuts
Thursday, January 20, 2011
by Sun Times editorial staff
No one said this would be easy.
But new Cook County Board President Toni
Preckwinkle is absolutely right when she insists that county officials
get serious about cutting their budgets a full 16 percent.
The county is facing a $487 million deficit in
its roughly $3 billion-a-year operations, and there’s no way that kind
of hole can be filled without pain. And remember, even if Preckwinkle
and the County Board erase that $487 million deficit, they’ll be doing
nothing more than getting the 2011 budget into line. There still would
be no room to discontinue the county’s penny-on-the-dollar sales take
increase, which Preckwinkle has pledged to repeal.
Preckwinkle has said she will make the 16 percent
cuts in her own office, as have Assessor Joseph Berrios, the Board of
Review, Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore and health and hospitals CEO
William Foley. (Because the fiscal year started Dec. 1, the offices
actually must cut by 21 percent to achieve 16 percent savings by year’s
But State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, Sheriff
Thomas Dart and Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown — whose operations
together typically account for a third of the budget — have said the 16
percent cut is too onerous for them.
We’re frankly surprised that Dorothy Brown can’t
find a way to make significant trims in an office that traditionally has
been larded with workers who don’t have much to do while others carry
On the other hand, Alvarez and Dart — who say they are cooperating with Preckwinkle — have legitimate concerns.
Ninety-eight percent of Alvarez’s budget is
personnel, and she is required to staff courtrooms throughout the
county. If she doesn’t, the chief judge can appoint a special state’s
attorney at a rate that Alvarez calculates at $185 an hour vs. the $65
an hour it costs for a staff lawyer.
Alvarez’s office also performs other tasks, but
financial savings won’t be easy to find there, either, according to her
numbers. For example, if the county outsourced the handling of Stroger
Hospital’s medical malpractice suits, the expense would disappear from
Alvarez’s budget, but the overall cost to the county would soar because
outside lawyers would have to be hired.
Dart, meanwhile, must comply with court orders
on staffing that make trimming his payroll an exceptional challenge. And
even laying off every police officer, court deputy and appointed
employee wouldn’t be sufficient to meet Preckwinkle’s goal. He has
proposed a 9 percent cut.
Still, Preckwinkle is absolutely correct that
costs must be brought into line. Alvarez and Dart should submit budgets
that meet the 16 percent guideline. If the results are too onerous, the
County Board would be free to ease up on the state’s attorney and
sheriff and look for savings elsewhere.
To her credit, Preckwinkle sees the downside to
across-the-board cuts, where bloated offices and lean ones get whacked
the same, and she seems to be working to avoid that in the future. She
has proposed ways to make county government more efficient and
responsive, ranging from sharing office functions across county agencies
to improving the efficiency of the criminal justice system. But she
needs time to get it done.
In the meantime, the numbers have to add up.