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Preckwinkle, hospital board still $35 million apart on budget

Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Chicago Sun-Times

The independent governing board of Cook County’s health and hospital system gave first-round approval Wednesday to an $827.6 million spending plan for 2012 that isn’t exactly getting the seal of approval from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

That’s because the health system is asking for $283 million in county taxpayer money, and Preckwinkle and the County Board hold those purse strings. But Preckwinkle has told the governing board she’s only willing to consider, at most, a $248 million subsidy to help cover costs at the health system, which includes two hospitals and 16 clinics that serve the poor and uninsured.

That’s a $35 million difference.

“We’re doing everything we can to get to that number,” Marisa Kollias, a health system spokeswoman, said of the $248 million number.

Preckwinkle will be introducing her 2012 budget — which includes the health system — next month, and she’s already vowed that layoffs and other cuts are on the table when the fiscal year starts Dec. 1.

The health system has been criticized by Preckwinkle and some county commissioners for overstated revenue projections this year that is expected to result in a shortfall of $96 million — money Preckwinkle says will have to come out of the health system’s reserves.

Sources say Preckwinkle doesn’t appear to be budging from the $248 million number. So what happens if the health system doesn’t make further cuts?

“I don’t have an answer,” says Preckwinkle spokeswoman Jessey Neves.

During the last budget season, Preckwinkle said she would swing the budget ax when Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez balked at steep budget cuts that they said would result in mass layoffs and hamper public safety.

After a bit of public drama, they all reached a compromise and that, along with a countywide furlough deal, spared jobs in both offices though sparing the sheriff meant the sheriff didn’t lay off staff, and Alvarez cut 31 employees, records show.

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