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Many Ways to Balance County Budget

Monday, December 15, 2003
Chicago Sun-Times

The Civic Federation commends the Sun-Times for its editorial on the Cook County budget [''A flicker of hope for full-scale rebellion,'' Dec. 12] We call on Cook County officials to balance their budget without raising taxes. There are many other ways the county's budget can be balanced without layoffs or service cuts. Although a vote on the county's fiscal 2004 $2.9 billion budget was postponed last week, commissioners continue to discuss unnecessary tax increases. The Civic Federation has maintained that county officials could balance the budget with a number of alternative strategies:

*Save $124 million by freezing appropriations at the 2003 level and cutting costs.

*Save $61 million by eliminating vacancies and regularly unspent appropriations.

*Save $60 million by limiting appropriations to natural revenue growth from existing taxes and fees.

*Save $37 million by increasing last year's appropriation by only 3 percent.

*Save up to $5 million by outsourcing janitorial services at the courthouses.

While Cook County faces a short-term problem in eliminating an $86 million deficit in 2004, it faces a much bigger long-term problem: how to make Cook County government operate more efficiently. There is no shortage of long-term cost-cutting ideas from civic organizations and the county's own research reports. Most of these recommendations have yet to be acted upon. Cook County government must put its fiscal house in order, and imposing fiscal discipline and implementing management efficiencies should be the first line of attack. Only as a last resort should tax increases even be considered.

Laurence Msall, president,
The Civic Federation

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