COM­MIS­SION­ERS CON­SID­ER­ING CUTS, RE­DUC­TIONS AF­TER POP TAX RE­PEAL

With soda tax dead, ‘ ev­ery­thing is on the ta­ble’ as County Board must close $ 200M bud­get short­fall

Chicago Sun-Times - - CUBS EXTRA - BY RACHEL HIN­TON Staff Re­porter

Cook County com­mis­sion­ers are back to the draw­ing board as they try to fig­ure out how to fill a $ 200 mil­lion gap in the 2018 bud­get af­ter the sweet­ened- bev­er­age tax was re­pealed on Wed­nes­day.

Com­mis­sion­ers and Board Pres­i­dent Toni Preckwinkle have un­til Nov. 30 to piece to­gether bud­get cuts or find new rev­enue to bridge the mas­sive short­fall, with the county’s new fis­cal year start­ing Dec. 1 — the same day the bev­er­age tax goes out of ef­fect.

Preckwinkle had counted on more than $ 200 mil­lion from the con­tro­ver­sial tax in her bud­get pro­posal.

Com­mis­sioner Stan­ley Moore, DChicago, said he may pro­pose cut­ting or con­sol­i­dat­ing the county’s sev­eral hu­man re­source de­part­ments, as well as merg­ing the court­houses in Skokie and Rolling Mead­ows.

“We’re go­ing to wait un­til each depart­ment has their bud­get hear­ing to see where other cuts can be made,” Moore said. “I’m not go­ing to be ag­gres­sive about where the cuts should hap­pen.”

Also on the ta­ble is the Oak For­est Health Cen­ter, which Moore says is op­er­at­ing on a “skele­ton crew.” The build­ing can’t be closed en­tirely be­cause it’s shared by the fed­eral Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, but staff and pa­tients may be moved to Prov­i­dent Hospi­tal, he said.

Com­mis­sioner Richard Boykin, D- Chicago, said elim­i­nat­ing va­cant po­si­tions could help tighten up the bud­get.

“We have to hold the line,” he said. “The fi­nan­cial re­al­ity of the county tax­payer must be brought to bear at the county ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble and that means we can’t op­er­ate in the same man­ner we’ve al­ways op­er­ated in.”

Tak­ing the “scalpel, not a hatchet” ap­proach, Boykin said the county’s pro­cure­ment of­fices and com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­part­ments could be down­sized. He also sug­gested re­work­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ments.

The county should also work at cur­tail­ing gun vi­o­lence in Chicago and the sub­urbs, which Boykin says cost the county around $ 30 mil­lion in hospi­tal bills and other costs since the be­gin­ning of Au­gust, when the bev­er­age tax went into ef­fect.

Preckwinkle said Thurs­day “ev­ery­thing is on the ta­ble,” but didn’t go into specifics on what that might mean, in­clud­ing whether or not tax­pay­ers may see an­other it­er­a­tion of the bev­er­age tax, or some type of new tax.

“This is a chal­lenge be­cause I con­trol 8 per­cent of the bud­get,” Preckwinkle said. “[ The com­mis­sion­ers] get to choose in­ter­nally how to make the cuts that are re­quired. I can sug­gest, but it’s their choice as to how they make those cuts.”

Should a new tax come be­fore the board, Boykin said he “wouldn’t con- sider that un­til I’m sat­is­fied that all the nec­es­sary cuts have been made.”

Boykin said Preckwinkle should also come up with rec­om­men­da­tions in­stead of “lay­ing the blame at the feet of state govern­ment.” Preckwinkle drafted a bal­anced bud­get and pre­sented it last week be­fore the com­mis­sion­ers voted to re­peal.

The “scare tac­tics” are “mis­lead­ing,” Boykin said, and sep­a­rate elected of­fices — in­clud­ing the county clerk, pub­lic de­fender, state’s at­tor­ney and more — should be told to cut as much as pos­si­ble to avoid the 11 per­cent across- the- board cut Preckwinkle has sug­gested.

“It’s our role to pro­vide for the most in­di­gent and I be­lieve we can do that with­out dec­i­mat­ing ser­vices while cre­at­ing re­forms,” Boykin said.

“[ THE COM­MIS­SION­ERS] GET TO CHOOSE IN­TER­NALLY HOW TO MAKE THE CUTS THAT ARE RE­QUIRED. I CAN SUG­GEST, BUT IT’S THEIR CHOICE AS TO HOW THEY MAKE THOSE CUTS.” TONI PRECKWINKLE, Cook Co. Board pres­i­dent

JAMES FOSTER/ FOR THE SUN- TIMES

The Cook County Board fi­nance com­mit­tee meets to vote on re­peal­ing the sweet­ened­bev­er­age tax on Tues­day.

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