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County budget deficit likely to quadruple

Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times
by Steve Patterson

Cook County commissioners bickered and battled for months over the 2005 budget, trying to close a $73 million deficit without raising taxes.

Tuesday, they learned their fight will be four times as tough in 2006 -- as they could face a $300 million deficit.

And maybe even more.

County Board President John Stroger -- who has long prided himself on not raising county property taxes in a decade -- said, "Now we're at a crisis situation. I will be doing anything reasonable to try and deal with it."

And while his critics have successfully defeated his proposed tax hikes two years in a row, Stroger said he sees "no way in the world we can balance this budge without raising some taxes.

But all 17 commissioners also face re-election next year, something weighing on the minds of each if they're asked to raise taxes.

Stroger's critics are already pointing to bloat in Stroger's budget, as Commissioner Tony Peraica asked Stroger to show "fiscal discipline" in leveling his top-heavy administration and streamlining hospital operations.

"We need to help ourselves," Peraica said. "What are we doing to decrease the expenditure side?"

Overhaul introduced

Before Tuesday's meeting even ended, Commissioners Forrest Claypool and Larry Suffredin introduced a plan to overhaul the budget process, demanding long-range budget projections, earlier presentation of the budget and quicker results of audits.

Stroger will present a $3 billion budget by year's end, which must be passed by the end of February, and includes spending for county hospitals, jails and government operations.



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