Preckwinkle swings serious budget ax
Wednesday, February 02, 2011
by SouthtownStar editorial staff
Cook County Board President Toni
Preckwinkle’s proposal to cut at least 1,075 jobs from the county
payroll shows the new leader is willing to make tough choices to close
the county’s $487 million budget hole.
Layoffs are an unfortunate but important step to
address a massive — and growing — budget gap, and we urge the 17-member
Cook County Board to approve the 2011 budget Preckwinkle put forth
While some commissioners may be tempted to add an
employee here or a program there, we urge all 17 to seriously weigh the
county’s critical fiscal situation and instead devise ways to further
curb spending in 2012 and beyond.
County taxpayers for too long have footed the
bill for a bloated government that’s long been synonymous with greed,
patronage and corruption. Indeed, taxpayers are just beginning to
finance the prosecution of the former board president’s deputy chief of
staff, Carla Oglesby, who was arrested in October on three felony
charges of theft of government property, money laundering and official
She’s just the latest official accused of
egregious abuse of the public trust at the county level. And we suspect
Preckwinkle is just beginning to unearth other questionable hires.
Her commitment to cut at least 1,075 jobs from
the county’s 23,700-employee payroll shows she’s serious about creating a
leaner Cook County, and we believe board members would be smart to back
her in this ambitious endeavor.
Preckwinkle has made clear layoffs are one part
of a larger plan to close the budget hole. Her proposed budget also
includes short-term borrowing, long-term debt refinancing, collection of
unpaid taxes and culling various surplus funds.
She is to be commended for sticking to her guns
and striking an agreement with Sheriff Tom Dart to cut $53 million from
his budget as part of the 2011 budget. Dart publicly mocked
Preckwinkle’s plan to save taxpayer dollars recently when he suggested
she cut his whole budget and he could patrol the county and the jail on
Dart’s initial reluctance to work with
Preckwinkle to save money for county residents raises questions about
his commitment to spend money wisely. Dart oversees a department where,
on any given day, 20 percent of his 6,800 employees are off work for
personal medical reasons or to care for a family member under the Family
and Medical Leave Act. At the jail, it’s 25 percent gone on any given
This is the kind of abuse that earns Cook County its reputation as a bloated, inefficient and patronage-laden institution.
County taxpayers, of course, continue to fund
health and pension costs for Dart’s absent employees as well as pay
substitutes who must fill in to cover shifts for the absent employees.
This raises the question why the department
employs 6,800 people when it can clearly operate with at least 20
percent less. Indeed, Dart has said he’ll likely cut about 100 employees
Preckwinkle and Dart jointly announced that the
county would form a task force to investigate the incredibly high
absentee rate in the sheriff’s department. We expect more interesting
findings from this task force.
We urge Preckwinkle and her staff to continue the
thorough examination into county finances — especially the sheriff’s
and highway departments. And we urge county commissioners to pass her
proposed 2011 county budget.