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Alvarez, Dart, Brown: Time to get on board

Friday, January 21, 2011
by SouthtownStar editorial staff

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle faces a tight deadline to trim a $487 million budget deficit, and as promised, she’s asked each county department to cut annual spending by 16 percent.

Thankfully, a majority have agreed. However, the three elected officials who control the largest chunk — or about $1 billion of the county’s roughly $3 billion budget — thus far are unwilling to make those needed cuts.

We urge Sheriff Tom Dart, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown to work with Preckwinkle and her administration to cut the county budget and stabilize its finances.

The controversy surrounding the much-reviled penny-on-the-dollar sales tax hike championed by Preckwinkle’s predecessor, Todd Stroger, forced Cook County residents to become all too aware of the county’s abysmal finances in 2010.

Almost from the moment she won the Democratic nod to run for board president in February 2010, Preckwinkle repeatedly and publicly said she would seek “shared sacrifice” when it came to right-sizing the county budget. In a Dec. 7 transition report posted online, her team wrote:

“In the immediate future, county government must address a large budget gap — 21 percent over the three quarters of FY 2011 remaining after the budget is passed. The county’s sales tax is high, which hurts economic activity in the region. To address these challenges and improve county services, county government must be transformed.”

The crisis doesn’t get much clearer than that, yet Dart, Alvarez and Brown for the moment decline to work with Preckwinkle to curb the county’s finances.

Each office has a different sets of rules and regulations and obligations, and perhaps Dart and Alvarez can make a case to trim their budgets to a lesser extent.

Dart has said court orders imposed on the sheriff’s department, such as the hiring of jail guards, could make cuts more difficult to accomplish. Alvarez claims she’d be forced to shed dozens of prosecutors, which could slow or clog criminal and civil cases moving through the system. Brown, who keeps records for all judicial matters brought into the circuit court, has not publicly said why she can’t rein in spending.

But the bottom line is all three knew these cuts were coming, and all three are stalling Preckwinkle’s plans to get Cook County back on a healthy fiscal track.

Of course, we are not members of Dart’s or Alvarez’s or Brown’s inner sanctum. We can’t say specifically where or what should be cut. But to argue each office is run as efficiently as possible would be ludicrous, and we urge each to take this matter seriously.

As residents of this county and taxpayer watchdogs, we feel Preckwinkle is living up to her campaign promise to cut the fat. On Tuesday, she reiterated firmly that the cuts will happen no matter what.

The budget standoff could reveal whether these elected officials will work with her or not. Their recent inaction seems to indicate they will not.

We urge Dart, Alvarez and Brown to rethink and work with Preckwinkle to craft a responsible, balanced county budget.

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