Cook OKs shutdown days to pass balanced budget
Saturday, February 26, 2011
by Ted Cox
The Cook County Board unanimously passed a balanced $3.1 billion 2011
budget early this morning, beating an end-of-February deadline, but
instituting furloughs and countywide shutdown days to do it.
The budget, initially proposed by board President Toni
Preckwinkle, accomplished her demand that it cut last year's $3.6
billion budget 16 percent, in part to address a $487 million deficit.
The final cuts came Friday night and into Saturday morning with
a proposal for five furlough days for county employees, put forth by
Preckwinkle's staff, and another five countywide shutdown days for
non-vital services, put forth by McCook Democratic Commissioner Jeffrey
It was expected to save $35 million, according to budget
documents, contingent on union approval, with the American Federation of
State, County and Municipal Employees given an extra week to reach a
deal hinging on layoffs and furlough days.
“It puts the trades back to work,” Tobolski said, albeit in a spirit of shared sacrifice.
According to Preckwinkle's Chief of Staff Kurt Summers, the
move would save an immediate 550 jobs, perhaps many more depending on
union concessions, Tobolski said. County layoffs predicted to be 1,300
or more were to be limited to 750.
Evanston Democratic Commissioner Larry Suffredin called the
extra period for AFSCME talks “a window for negotiation” that still
allowed the budget to be passed before Monday's deadline.
The county shutdown days, scheduled around holidays, were
set for April 22, May 27, July 1, Sept. 2 and Nov. 25. Police and
hospitals would continue to operate, but courts would be on a weekend
schedule, and other county offices would be closed.
“I want to thank all of you for your hard work the last three months,” Preckwinkle said of her first county budget.
“We broke a record, as you know,” said Democratic Chicago
Commissioner John Daley, who pushed the process on until final adoption
at about 4:30 a.m. Saturday.
The board's most raucous debate earlier in the day concerned
the commissioners' own spending before the finance committee. By a 13-4
vote, the committee approved a proposal to end the old unequal system
of commissioner budgets, which ranged from $320,000 to $460,000, and
instead divide up a fund of almost $6 million, with $350,000 going to
all 17 commissioners, including the $85,000 salary for each. In the
process, the commissioners were reducing their overall fund 12 percent.
The equal divide drew complaints from long-term
commissioners with senior staff and those with large districts requiring
Chicago Democrat Earlean Collins said it imposed unequal
cuts on commissioners, with some actually increasing their budget
“How ... do you think we're going to get to parity?” Chicago
Democratic Commissioner Deborah Sims said. “This budget is not fair,
and there is no parity.”
Crestwood Democrat Joan Patricia Murphy called it “totally unfair” and said she'd be forced to lay off a “valuable employee.”
Orland Park Republican Commissioner Liz Gorman said it was a
product of a divide between city and suburban commissioners, but
Elmwood Park Republican Peter Silvestri dismissed that, pointing to how
his district straddles the suburbs and Chicago and he supported an equal
In the end, the majority agreed to an equal divide, with only Collins, Murphy, Sims and Chicago Democrat Robert Steele opposed.
Even Gorman joined her fellow suburban Republicans in
endorsing the split, although she introduced amendments to the measure
later attempting to draw $460,000 from the budget of Clerk David Orr to
pay for the commissioners' district offices.
Orr's office agreed to the deal, but the board did not,
voting it down, 10-7, with Gorman the lone Republican joining Chicago
Democrats in favor.
“They took my money,” Collins groaned afterward. “I found money, and they take it.”
The motion was reintroduced adding $10,000 to each
commissioner's budget at a cost of $170,000, or more than $6 million
overall, and passed, thus giving each a total of $360,000. The board
diverted the rest of the money to reinstate the sheriff's graffiti unit,
a move sponsored by Silvestri.
Earlier, by a 9-8 vote, the finance committee rejected a
proposal by Chicago Democratic Commissioner John Fritchey to blend all
interdepartmental technology workers into one finance unit under Chief
Information Officer Greg Wass. Fritchey maintained it was a budgetary
measure and did not impinge on the autonomy of countywide elected
officials, like Treasurer Maria Pappas and Assessor Joseph Berrios, who
raised objections at the last minute.
Most commissioners expressed support for the concept, which
was likewise discussed by Preckwinkle on the campaign trail and in her
transition report, but gave in to misgivings by state's attorney liaison
Patrick Driscoll Jr., who expressed “serious concerns” about the unit
infringing on the constitutionally elected officials.