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The Cook County budget: Sugar-free, but not pain-free

Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle

4:00 pm, November 29, 2017

In its Nov. 21 editorial “Stroger vs. Preckwinkle: Hide your wallets,” the Tribune Editorial Board continues its unhealthy obsession with the repealed sweetened beverage tax and once again, ignores basic facts of how Cook County operates.

I introduced the beverage tax last year to plug a budget gap for fiscal year 2017 and set the stage for a stable three-year financial plan for Cook County. Groups like the Civic Federation agreed that the tax would serve that purpose and the bond ratings services agreed. The soda industry didn’t and residents made clear they didn’t like the tax. Commissioners voted to repeal it as of Dec. 1. That issue is settled and is old news.

Knowing we would not have revenues from the tax, my budget team spent the last four weeks working with commissioners, separately elected officials, bureau chiefs and department heads, and stakeholders to find cuts that would allow us to balance our fiscal year 2018 budget. As requested by commissioners, we provided them with a road map on how we could accomplish this, and — with some minor adjustments — we did just that. On Nov. 21, the board voted unanimously to approve the budget.

You ask many questions in your editorial, but never in any of your editorials do you note that the county has two major service obligations: public health and public safety. The cuts we proposed, and which ultimately passed, were heavily weighted in those arenas. This budget is sugar-free, but it is certainly not pain-free. The difficulty was to tailor the cuts by focusing on top-heavy management where it existed. This was no small task.

Allow me to point out that:

Since 2010 when I took office — and with this budget that lays off more than 300 employees and closes more than a thousand vacancies — the county workforce has shrunk about 15 percent.

We have closed budget deficits of about $2 billion.

We have reduced our long-term debt by 11 percent.

Even prior to this budget, we had cut $657 million in expenditures.

These are tangible, taxpayer-friendly actions that are hallmarks of an administration committed to operating in an efficient and fiscally responsible fashion. We are paying down our unfunded pension liabilities, improving our health system, and championing criminal justice reforms.

We’re moving on and are dedicated to doing the best we can in providing services to our residents in the most cost-efficient way possible.

— Toni Preckwinkle, president, Cook County Board of Commissioners

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