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Just Sue Me, Stroger Says Over Budget Deadlock

Wednesday, January 07, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times
by Abdon M. Pallasch

A†month after the Cook County budget was due, Cook County commissioners adjourned their regular bi-weekly meeting Tuesday no closer to a compromise on the $3 billion budget.

County Board President John Stroger proclaimed himself open to compromise but lectured commissioners about "loyalty" and not doing what the newspapers tell them to do. He told opposition Commissioner Tony Peraica (R-Riverside) that if Peraica didn't like Stroger's methods he could get the U.S. Supreme Court or the press to sue him.

Stroger supports but does not have the votes to pass a hike in the county sales or cigarette taxes or to enact a new tax on leased items.

Commissioners want Stroger to cut the budget rather than depending on new taxes.

Stroger said Tuesday he has already cut positions in offices under his control, but he said Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan and Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine have not cut as many positions as he has.

They say they have cut as many as they can cut.

Referring to the dozen-or-so sheriff's officers Sheahan has posted to handle security at the Daley Center lobby, where visitors must pass through metal detectors, Stroger said, "Does the sheriff need all these people walking around tripping over each other providing security here?"

Sheahan said the security is necessary in the post 9/11-era to screen the 8,000-10,000 people who come to the Daley Center every day.

Stroger has taken shots at Sheahan throughout the budget process, prompting Sheahan to cut four of the five sheriff's officers he had assigned to be Stroger's bodyguards/drivers.

"That's when [Sheahan] decided Old Man Stroger should go out there and fight off all the people who jump on him by himself," Stroger said.

Stroger asked Sheahan to cut 40 positions. Sheahan cut 30.

"The sheriff acted unreasonably about it -- we didn't get as many [cuts] as we should," Stroger said.

As for Devine, Stroger asked if there were some courtrooms Devine staffed with five prosecutors where he could get by with three.

Actually, Devine's office has three prosecutors, not five, in most courtrooms. And they have agreed to cut 17 positions.

Because no new budget was passed last month, the old one stays in effect and county employees do not get scheduled raises. They should get retroactive pay once a new budget is approved, county officials said.

State law requires the budget be passed by Feb. 28. It's unclear what will happen if no new budget is passed by then. Negotiations will be suspended next week as Stroger embarks on a long-scheduled cruise with his wife.

Commissioner Earlean Collins (D-Chicago), the swing vote who has blocked adoption of Stroger's budget, said Tuesday she had been meeting with Stroger and expected a compromise to be worked out soon.

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