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Stroger Seeks Budget Compromise

Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Special to

While his nearly $3 billion budget hinging on a one-vote margin of victory, Cook County Board President John J. Stroger Jr. Tuesday extended an olive branch to an independent bloc and said he is seeking a compromise.

But, while Stroger adamantly vowed not to compromise services and continued to say his budget is a responsible one prepared by fiscal experts, Stroger said he has "never been opposed to cuts, and I have and I have demonstrated that over my tenure as president.

"This budget has been an exercise for all of us but make no mistake that there are members of this board who have taken the time to understand what some of the irresponsible proposals would mean to the people who rely on us," he told the board.

"We will not be intimidated by editorials or special interest groups," said Stroger who told the Chicago Defender he believes the anti-budget actions are "media-driven" rather than voting for the public they all serve.

"The amendment process should be used as an opportunity to present thoughtful changes to the budget. My financial team has assured me that the various proposals out there require layoffs," Stroger warned.

"While laying people off may get you the support of the editorial boards, the headlines that will result from longer clinic waste, pharmacy delays and dangerous conditions in out public safety system will cause real harm to real people.

"It is for that reason that I stand firmly behind the budget I proposed," the president stated.

Stroger said he is also for the demolition of the old Cook County Hospital, built in 1914, because it is costing taxpayers more than $400,000 a month just to maintain it.

However Commissioner Larry Suffredin introduced a resolution, which passed, delaying a demolition vote until Jan. 22 in hopes he can strike a compromise that will allow developers to present viable plans to rehabilitate the main hospital.

On the budget stand-off Suffredin, who said the Dec. 18 meeting has been canceled until the call of the chair, after hearing Strogerís willingness to compromise, heís "optimistic."

Suffredin said he is opposed to tax increases and believe "there are places in the budget we can cut the spending pattern in the budget.

"There had been for the last-four years, $200 million cash fund balances that carry over from year to year. There are a bunch of contingency funds worth about $11 million and a $40 million settlement from a class action oil overcharge matter "that has never been used," said Suffredin.

He believes they should look at the 2,000 vacancies to save even more money.

Commissioner Bobbie Steele says any one of the commissioners can be the ninth vote that would allow passage of the budget, Stroger said is still hoping that Comm. Earlean Collins will be the one whoíll put closure on the budget wars that has stymied county government.

"I have a staff of credentialed financial professionals who been analyzing and preparing budgets for many years," Stroger said.

"The budget we presented is based on the historical expenses and revenue, the best practices in the field of public finance and the obligations of this county in terms of services and personnel."

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