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Preckwinkle wants to give commissioners $500K each for projects

Monday, October 17, 2016
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Preckwinkle wants to give commissioners $500K each for projects

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle delivers the budget for the next year.

Hal DardickContact ReporterChicago Tribune



As she tries to persuade commissioners to vote for a beverage tax, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle wants to give each board member control over a pot of money for local projects.

It's a page out of the City Hall playbook, where former Mayor Richard M. Daleypopularized the practice of giving the city's 50 aldermen control over $1.3 million in spending on ward projects each year. Mayor Rahm Emanuel continues doling out that so-called menu money, so named because aldermen choose from a menu of potential projects outlined by the city Department of Transportation, albeit with a few more restrictions on how it can be spent.

Now, Preckwinkle wants to give each commissioner control over $500,000 a year in gas tax revenue to spend solely on transportation projects, like roads, bridges and bike or walking paths. It's part of her proposed 2017 budget.

The idea is that aldermen and commissioners know which projects are most needed in their communities. But small pots of money also build support for the city and county chief executive's budget proposals because they cede power and influence to grateful aldermen and commissioners.


That could be key for Preckwinkle this year, because she is proposing a new penny-an-ounce tax on sweetened beverages just 15 months after pushing through a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax increase.

Preckwinkle told the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board that the idea came from John Yonan, the county superintendent of transportation and highways who was Daley's deputy commissioner of the Department of Transportation's engineering division.

She added that the county has the $8.5 million needed to pay for the program because of the sales tax increase, which allowed the county to stop diverting $45 million in gas tax revenue to public safety costs. That means the county program would be paid for with current revenue. City Hall borrows the aldermanic menu money, which makes the cost much higher over the long run.

Preckwinkle: Tax on pop, other drinks will help avert criminal justice cuts

There also are more limitations on how the county money would be spent. Preckwinkle said the money would have to be used to match federal funding for transportation projects. The federal government typically pays for 80 percent, with the county, city, suburbs or townships kicking in the rest.

"In the case of commissioners who have suburban cities, towns and villages they represent, we can use county funds to make the local match so they can get federal dollars for their transportation projects," said Preckwinkle, who added that commissioners whose districts include Chicago neighborhoods can use the money to supplement aldermanic menu money projects.

"We've got lots of very poor communities that can't get infrastructure dollars from the federal government because they don't have the local match," Preckwinkle added, specifically mentioning Riverdale and Harvey.

Yonan said the hope is to further goals of a new county long-range transportation plan, which found a need for "equity" in transportation projects. It comes under the heading of "call for projects," a new program that allows local governments to seek county help in getting their projects off the ground.

Not mentioned: Assisting aldermen, local mayors, village presidents and township officials looking to pay for projects also would help commissioners build loyalty among local politicians, who have a base of support among the same voters who elect County Board members.

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