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Editorial: A budget with values

Monday, October 24, 2011
Chicago Sun-Times
by Editorial

A government budget is more than a compilation of numbers. Itís also a statement of priorities ó and values.

On that basis, we like much of what we see in Cook Countyís proposed 2012 fiscal year budget.

The budget shows Board President Toni Preckwinkle is following through, for the most part, on her pledge to rescind the sales tax increase enacted under her predecessor (a ďuse taxĒ will remain on cars and boats). It reflects a county government determined to be more efficient. And it reflects a commitment to long-term planning, including allocating $400 million over three years for regional job-creating projects.

One sensible goal is to steer suspects in nonviolent crimes toward electronic monitoring ($67 a day) instead of incarceratation at Cook County Jail ($143 a day) or the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center ($616 a day). Preckwinkle wants to reduce the daily average jail population by 1,000 and the JTDC population by 150.

That doesnít just save money, it also puts a smart emphasis on working with ó rather than simply locking up ó young offenders.

We do question the wisdom, in particular, of a couple of proposals.

A decision to charge for parking at courthouses might make it harder to persuade witnesses and potential jurors to show up. The argument that the fee would be less than the price of public transit overlooks the fact that many areas of the county donít have regular bus or train service.

And we worry, as we have written before, about proposed cuts to Cook Countyís public health system. The healthy systemís independent board, chief financial officer and top doctors fear the proposed reductions would lead to cuts in core medical services.

Assembling a budget always involves tradeoffs. On balance, this one works.

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