Preckwinkle wins easy approval of $4 billion budget
Friday, November 14, 2014
by Hal Dardick and John Byrne
Despite dissent from a fellow Democrat, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Friday won easy approval for her $4 billion 2015 budget proposal that includes no new taxes, fines or fees.
Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, voted against the spending plan, saying that the county was not doing enough to fund future increased pension payments, plan for public health care system funding uncertainties and make reductions in the daily jail population.
"Postponing bad news does not eliminate it," Suffredin said. "There is no planning for next year built into this election-year budget. Transparency requires that I warn people of the coming budget storm."
The board voted 13-1 to approve the budget, with Commissioner John Fritchey, D-Chicago, voting present because of what he deemed insufficient funding for programs that aim to keep people out of jail. Two commissioners were absent.
When reminded by Commissioner Deborah Sims, D-Chicago, of last year's unanimous vote for her budget plan, Preckwinkle noted how many votes it takes to win approval on the 17-member board. "Nine votes is all you need," she said.
After the vote, she defended her efforts to deal with pensions, reduce the jail population and handle sea changes to the county's vast public health system. And she noted that she has been talking for months about next year's budget storm.
"I have tried from the very beginning of my administration to be as open and honest with the commissioners as I possibly could — likewise, to be honest with the residents of Cook County," Preckwinkle said, "and I resent the suggestion that we've made any effort to obscure the difficulties that we face in the future or to minimize them."
Preckwinkle earlier this year warned that the 2016 budget will be far more difficult to balance because debt payments will grow and the county will need to pay $144 million more into the county workers' retirement system if she secures the pension fund changes she seeks from the General Assembly.
Before the vote, Suffredin did manage to secure a change to the budget. If the county has leftover funds Nov. 30, 2015 — when the next budget year concludes — the money will be diverted to an account for payment into the pension funds if state law allows that.