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Toni Preckwinkle says county layoffs this year are ‘inevitable’

Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said yet another round of layoffs are on the horizon as she and her team work to close a budget gap that could exceed $300 million.

“As there were layoffs last year, I expect that … it will be inevitable there will be layoffs this year,” Preckwinkle told reporters after the County Board meeting Wednesday.

On Thursday, she’ll offer a look at the projected budget hole as county government heads in to budget season; the fiscal year ends Nov. 30.

In May, Preckwinkle told the Sun-Times the projected shortfall ranged between $250 million and $300 million but wouldn’t say how much it would be. A source said it is above $300 million but below this year’s $487 million shortfall that saw roughly 500 layoffs and a series of unpaid days off for those who remained on the job.

Preckwinkle has said in recent months that revenue shortfalls in the county health-care system and a projected loss of revenues tied to partial rollback of the county’s sales tax in January 2012 are contributing to the forecasted budget crunch.

Preckwinkle chuckled when asked whether the County Board might reconsider the sales tax rollback. She campaigned – and won – by vowing to erase what’s left of an unpopular penny-on-the-dollar sales tax hike championed by predecessor Todd Stroger.

“No one has suggested that nor will we propose that,” said Preckwinkle, who won unanimous support for a gradual rollback of the hike as part of the 2011 budget package.

Preckwinkle says she’s meeting with labor leaders to figure out a way to stem the layoffs.

In a recent interview, Preckwinkle said the 10 unpaid days off handed to most county workers this year will be on the table in 2012 and “for the foreseeable future.”

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