Cook County Budgets - Who Cares?
"Yo, Chicagoist! Why the fuck do you give a rat's ass about Cook County gov'ment, budgets and shit? I mean, come on. Really, the Cook County Board really only controls the Forest Preserve and the County Hospital! They don't even run the jails! The elected Sheriff does that. They don't run the courts, the County Clerk of the Circuit Court does that. And they don't take care of taxes, the elected Treasurer and Assessor does that. They don't even take care of all the paperwork, the elected County Clerk does. So why do you keep bothering us with all this shiznit?"
Excellent question, dear reader. The answer can be summed in three words: Patronage. Patronage Patronage. Each of these fiefdoms has a chunk of jobs they control. As of the start of 2004, they each controlled:
County Board President - 8,672 jobs
Clerk of the Circuit Court - 2,153 jobs
Sheriff - 6,479 jobs
Assessor - 461 jobs
County Clerk - 316 jobs
Recorder of Deeds - 277 jobs
Treasurer - 191 jobs
What exactly is patronage? It's more than just getting someone a job, and then they owe you a favor. It's a symbiotic system where a political boss gets you a job (usually not a hard one), and in return you must work for them during election time (as hard as you can!). Most political bosses don't have to defend their turf every election season, so most elections they send their patronage workers off to support some other elected official they want to influence. If the second official wins, the big boss gets more influence over that elected official's patronage. Remarkably, the patronage system sounds a lot like feudal government!
So this whole County budget business lately is really a fight about patronage. Republican members of the County Board have no influence with the Democratic County Board President -- who happens to control the most jobs. Similarly, Lakefront liberal Democrat members of the County Board also have no influence with the President. No jobs for them! Not surprisingly, every word the President utters about the budget lacks mention of job cuts -- because that would cut his patronage!
So, news that President John ("I have a hospital named after me.") Stroger's budget would raise sales taxes in Chicago to nine percent -- the highest in the nation -- and refuses to consider a proposed 2% across-the-board cut, shouldn't be a shock. After all, folks just gotta keep looking out for themselves!
Update: Stroger released a proposed budget this afternoon, that raises sales and hotel taxes, but doesn't cut services.