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Cook County Board greenlights 2020 budget
The vote was 15-1-1 to approve President Toni Preckwinkle's $6.2 billion plan, which has no tax or fee increases.

Thursday, November 21, 2019
Crain's Chicago Business
by A.D. Quig

The Cook County Board today approved its 2020 budget, a $6.2 billion plan with no tax or fee hikes.

Board President Toni Preckwinkle got a standing ovation after the final passage. The budget was expected to be low-key—commissioners only had to close an $18.7 million gap identified this June—far from the nearly $500 million gap Preckwinkle faced her first year in office.

The budget, for the fiscal year that starts Dec. 1, cuts hundreds of vacant positions at the county’s health system, while adding dozens of positions to help clear marijuana convictions from criminal records and manage the rising number of property tax appeals.

Preckwinkle said the budget builds on years of hard work, difficult decisions and hard votes “without raising existing taxes in this coming fiscal year. This has been possible because we’ve focused on structural solutions rather than quick fixes and one-time solutions,” including cutting the county’s headcount by 14 percent over her tenure, refinancing debt and cutting expenditures.

 

In a statement, Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-13), put it simply: “There were no issues or controversies surrounding this budget.”

But still, he said he was proud to be one of the 15 of the 17 on the board to vote in favor. A pension hawk, Suffredin applauded a $350 million supplemental pension payment included in the budget, helping make Cook County’s “among the most stable in Illinois. . . .This payment protects our taxpayers from the pension shock other local governments are facing.”

Commissioner Sean Morrison, one of the board’s lone remaining Republicans, was the sole vote against the budget, citing an overall growth in spending under Preckwinkle’s tenure, concern over the long-term health of the county’s hospital system and concern that the county was not dedicating enough to pensions.

Officials with the Cook County Health & Hospitals System have also expressed concern about the long-term cost of shouldering a majority of the county’s charity care.

Preckwinkle and Morrison are often at odds—she chalked up his no vote to a continuation of that trend.

Commissioner Jeff Tobolski, D-16, was absent from today’s vote. He has not appeared at the Cook County Board since late September, when the offices of the McCook Village Hall, where he is also mayor, were raided. While Preckwinkle asked Tobolski to step down from committee leadership, she declined to say whether she’d ask him to resign from the board.

Commissioners made $20 million worth of amendments to Preckwinkle’s initial proposal, including taking some money from Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown’s office and dedicating it to legal services for victims of domestic abuse. Commissioners also approved a health subsidy for a primary care plan for the uninsured in suburban Cook County and set aside more money for ballots to be translated in multiple languages.

The budget for fiscal 2019 was $5.94 billion.

 


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