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Preckwinkle proposes 1,300 layoffs
County Board president unveils cuts, borrowing, fees to close $487M budget shortfall

Tuesday, February 01, 2011
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

New Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle won praise Tuesday for her plan to "end spending without control," in part by laying off more than 1,300 workers in a government long notorious for its bloated payroll.

She wants to spend $3 billion on day-to-day operations this year. That's nearly $50 million less than last year, despite rising salaries and benefits for county workers.

The county also will take in less money after commissioners cut in half the unpopular penny-on-the-dollar sales tax increase enacted under former Board President Todd Stroger, whom Preckwinkle defeated in last year's Democratic primary.

"I realize this is a challenging situation, but we must address it," Preckwinkle told commissioners. "We cannot continue this spending without control, managing without measure. We can do better."So Preckwinkle is proposing a combination of cuts, long-term debt refinancing, short-term borrowing, collection of unpaid taxes, modest fee increases and drawdowns of surplus funds to close a budget shortfall pegged at $487 million. The layoffs would hit a mix of full- and part-time employees.

Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a nonpartisan government budget watchdog group, noted how quiet it was in the boardroom during Preckwinkle's presentation.?

"It's a reality check for this government," he said. "This government has to get its spending under control."

Msall went on to say he's "pleasantly surprised" by the budget cuts, although he cautioned that his staff has yet to comb through all the details, particularly those related to debt refinancing.

"We have never seen this level of detailed preparation and innovation in a budget proposal from a County Board president before," he said. "Without a doubt, this is a new day."?

But in some ways, Preckwinkle's proposal, made after just two months in office, is a work in progress. The cuts in the sheriff's, state's attorney's and circuit court clerk's offices have yet to detailed.

Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, said he expects the board will follow Preckwinkle's "budget outline" but make adjustments "to make sure the layoffs are in the right places." The 17 county commissioners have until Feb. 28 to approve a budget.

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