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Preckwinkle proposes no new taxes in 2015 budget

Thursday, October 09, 2014
Crain's Chicago Business
by Greg Hinz

Less than a month before she faces voters again, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle today is unveiling what sure looks like a re-election budget, a $3.99 billion spending plan that she says includes no new taxes, fines or fees.

Full details will not be available until later today, but it appears Ms. Preckwinkle relied heavily on reduced spending on the county's health care system. With Obamacare picking up much of the tab that used to be paid by county taxpayers alone, Ms. Preckwinkle is budgeting only a $164 million subsidy for the system next year, down 58 percent from when she took office in 2010.

System CEO Dr. John Jan Shannon says Cook County Health and Hospitals System nonetheless will expand some, and will offer "safe, high-quality care (that) will allow us to position CCHHS as a provider of choice."

The county's total operating and capital budget is $3.99 billion for the fiscal year that starts on Dec. 1, about an 11 percent increase from the $3.56 billion budgeted in fiscal 2014. The growth in spending largely is driven by a $409 million increase in the county health system budget, which is offset by reimbursements under Obamacare. Spending from the county's general fund is expected to rise roughly 3.9 percent in 2015, from 2014.

Ms. Preckwinkle, in a budget summary released late yesterday, also emphasized success in obtaining more grants. She's budgeting $220 million for that revenue line item for the fiscal year that begins Dec. 1, up 36 percent from this year.

Ms. Preckwinkle, who faces only nominal opposition in the Nov. 4 election, says she closed a projected $168.9 million shortfall by making $48.8 million of unspecified cost cuts; boosting revenue $36.6 million because of the recovering economy and greater state aid; better managing vendor payments, $22.5 million; and $61 million via cost reductions and higher Obamacare revenue in the health system.

One thing Ms. Preckwinkle has not accomplished is overhauling the county's pension plan, which at the moment has roughly $6.5 billion in unfunded liabilities. The county president failed to get her plan through the Illinois General Assembly earlier this year but said she plans on "continuing her efforts" to win approval.

REDUCING JAIL COSTS

Another continuing campaign is to move nonviolent offenders awaiting trial out of Cook County Jail.

Running the jail is "an incredibly expensive enterprise" that costs taxpayers $381 million a year, she said. "We know that the best way to bring down the cost of the jail is to bring down the jail population."

The budget is the second in a row with no new taxes, fines or fees and, like the last one, is expected to cake walk through the county board. Said Finance Committee Chairman John Daley, "This budget is another example of the president's commitment to creating long-term financial stability, not running away from tough decisions."

The budget will be posted at the county's website.

FY2015 Cook County Budget Address



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