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Jurors asked to dig deeper under Preckwinkle’s proposed budget

Monday, October 24, 2011
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

When Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle talks about shared sacrifice, she’s not kidding.

The budget plan Preckwinkle is planning to introduce on Tuesday not only includes layoffs and increased taxes on everyone from tobacco chewers to boat owners to car buyers, it even hits up people doing jury duty, taking away the free parking perk many now enjoy.

“It’s their civic duty,” Preckwinkle said.

Failing to reach a job-saving deal with union employees, Preckwinkle is planning to recommend more than 1,000 layoffs in 2012, expand sin and luxury taxes and curb the jail population — all in an effort to balance the $3 billion budget.

Preckwinkle’s plan calls for boosting parking rates at Stroger Hospital and possibly other facilities. Free parking would end at the county’s five suburban courthouses and main criminal courts complex at 26th and California in Chicago. The new $4.75 courthouse parking fee, along with the hike in other parking rates, would generate $6 million.

Already, jurors — and most visitors — to the county’s Daley Center court complex in downtown Chicago pay to park if they drive.

Preckwinkle said about half the 1,057 layoffs could be averted if union leaders agree to have their members take eight unpaid days off ˜ — including six holidays. She’s called these and cuts countywide part of the “shared sacrifice” of any austerity budget.But in recent days a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees called the proposal a “non-starter” and a Service Employees Union International Local 73 spokesman said only they’d be willing to go back to the bargaining table.

Preckwinkle did not provide a full list of the proposed lay offs, but she said the ax would fall on 282 staff working in offices under her direct authority. That includes facilities management where janitorial services could be privatized under her plan. She’s calling for unionized janitors and private firms to compete under a “managed competition” to reduce costs.

She wants to hike the county’s alcohol tax imposed on wholesalers, generating $10.9 million. The beer tax alone would go up 50 percent — from six cents a gallon to nine cents.

The cigarette tax would expand to include loose tobacco and snuff, bringing in $12 million next year.

The “use” tax on cars, boats and other so-called luxury items would jump from .75 percent to 1 percent, bringing in $14 million in 2012.

The cuts along with tax and fee hikes helped close a $315 million deficit caused in part by the upcoming Jan. 1 quarter-cent rollback of the county’s sales tax — a projected loss of about $50 million in revenues next year.

She stood firm on the rollback, a campaign promise to consumers and businesses she said were hurt by the hike.

She said she could shore up the social and financial costs of jailing suspects in non-violent cases by putting them on electronic monitoring. By slashing the jail population by 1,000 she could save $5 million

“If you’re on electronic monitoring, you can go to work, continue to support your family,” Preckwinkle told the Sun-Times editorial board. “You can go to school and continue your education, or you could be at home, under your own roof with food provided for yourself as opposed to us providing it for you.”

She’s also looking to cut the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center population in half — to 150 — in the coming years.

About 42 percent of the kids, ages 10 to 16, who walk through the doors of the county’s Juvenile Temporary Detention Center on the West Side are out in a week or less. She said it doesn’t make sense to house them when they could be at home and going to their own schools as they await trial. She’s examining the less costly system of putting kids in secure group homes.

Beyond the justice system, Preckwinkle is allotting $252 million to the health and hospital system that serves the poor and uninsured, but is demanding they shore up patient billing problems, renegotiate contracts — including $47 million in controversial consulting contracts — and other measures.

Preckwinkle’s recommendation will go to the full County Board for a vote. The fiscal year begins Dec. 1.

Commissioner Bridget Gainer, a North Side Democrat, said she liked the idea of managed competition in the janitorial department because it’s a way of saving money without affecting the county’s core mission of public health, public safety and collecting taxes.

“Finding a way to do it cheaper is a perfect compromise,” she said.

Peter N. Silvestri, a Northwest Side and suburban Republican, is taking a wait-and-see attitude about some of the measures, including the tax and fee hikes.

“If they’re going to create a greater burden for taxpayers then they have to justify these increases,” he said.



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