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A faint sign of life

Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Chicago Tribune
Editorial

Like a comatose patient wiggling his toes for the first time in 20 years, the Cook County Board of Commissioners did something this week that was both stunning and deeply frustrating.

In a marathon session that stretched into Tuesday morning, a majority of the commissioners effectively forced County Board President John Stroger to give up some tax increases, accept some changes in his proposed budget and even make some spending cuts.

But there was so much more that could have been done to bring the torpid county government back to life.

Giddy and shocked with their newfound power and independence, some commissioners congratulated each other. One even declared: "Democracy has arrived at the Cook County Board!"

Those commissioners who led the reform movement, who shot down proposed sales and lease tax hikes and fought a cigarette tax increase, deserve congratulations.

They are Forrest Claypool, Elizabeth Ann Doody Gorman, Gregg Goslin, Carl Hansen, Tony Peraica, Michael Quigley, Peter Silvestri and Larry Suffredin.

Earlean Collins was the swing vote who forced Stroger to drop his pitch for sales and lease taxes but, alas, she swung back to approve the cigarette tax.

This was but the first shot at reforming county government. Indeed, the ultimate solution to closing a $58 million deficit relied on just a wee bit of belt-tightening. The county transferred $20 million from two obscure funds, imposed an 82-cent tax hike on a pack of cigarettes expected to raise $32 million a year and cut $5.49 million, mostly from the sheriff's department.

The spending cuts are so small someone described them as a rounding error in the county's $3 billion budget.

The revenue gimmicks will not be available next year, when the county faces a projected $120 million shortfall. So they'll be back at it, with another test of whether county commissioners are ready to overhaul county government.

Discussions over next year's budget need to begin right now. They need to go beyond talks about how to close the looming deficit. They need to focus on fundamentally changing the way the county does business.

The fervent hope is that John Stroger and Finance Committee Chairman John Daley will now listen, rather than resist the push to responsible government one more time.

Try it, gentlemen. Try wiggling your toes.

 

 



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