Will Cook County Have a Budget This Friday?

By Kevin Robinson in News on Feb 26, 2008 3:51PM

The Cook County Board of Commissioners had a contentious meeting yesterday as they tried to resolve a looming budget shortfall of nearly $300 million. The board must pass a budget by Feb 29 or face a partial shut down of the county government.

2008_2_stroger.jpgBoard President Todd Stroger has been trying to convince county commissioners and the public that unless the county sales tax is raised to two percent from its current 0.75 percent, county health care services will be drastically cut. The vote on that increase - which would raise Chicago's sales tax to 10.5 percent - was deferred until Wednesday. While Stroger has been unable to get the ninth vote on the 17 member commission that he needs to pass his budget proposal, Commissioner Roberto Maldonado indicated last Friday that he may back a limited tax increase. In a phone conversation with the Sun Times, a Maldonado staffer said that the commissioner "has said no to what has been offered by the president so far," the implication being that a reduced tax hike might be palatable. Maldonado has proposed an alternative series of tax and fee increases, as well as budget cuts that he says will "protect the Bureau of Health from downsizing and close the general revenue gap by almost one-third."

If the tax hike isn't approved, commissioners would begin looking at other tax and fee increases, as well as an 18 percent across the board reduction in spending. Republican commissioners, as well as three Democrats that frequently oppose Stroger say that debt restructuring, fee increases and management reforms could close the budget gap that is estimated to be around $283 million. Last year's budget was based on a compromise that included a 1.3 percent cut in spending and a workforce reduction of nearly 2,000 jobs - mostly in the health services bureau.