Stroger's 2009 Budget Expected

By Hunter Clauss in News on Nov 25, 2008 6:40PM

president_todd_h__stroger_8.jpgThe Cook County budget showdown is gearing up as county President Todd Stroger is expected to unveil his 2009 budget proposal today. Stroger has already put pressure on Cook County commissioners to approve a plan to borrow $720 million. The Stroger administration argues that the money is needed in order to keep the county afloat. Donna Dunnings, the county’s chief financial officer and Stroger’s cousin, told the Trib yesterday that massive layoffs are in store if the plan is rejected.

Commissioner Forrest Claypool, however, isn’t buying it. He argues that the county should be swimming in money after the board passed a controversial tax hike that gives Chicago the highest sales tax in the nation.

“The big question in all this remains, however, where did all the money go?” Claypool told the Trib. “Where did Stroger’s massive sales-tax increase go and all those hundreds of millions of dollars?”

Claypool also accused Stroger of using scare tactics in order to force commissioners to vote for the plan. Last week, the Cook County Pension Board sent a letter to all retirees that implied their pensions where in jeopardy unless commissioners approved $104 million in bonds. The letter went on to say that pensions were fine, but that didn’t stop retirees from calling commissioners, whose names and phone numbers were included in the letter. Stroger critics also claim that administrators are not paying their bills in an effort to garner support for the borrowing plan. Those administrators say they can’t pay court settlements, attorney’s fees, and self-insurance claims because there isn’t enough money to hand out.

Stroger critics say that’s all baloney. To them, Stroger is trying to beef up his political army by using the borrowed money to create more jobs. More jobs equal more loyal voters, who won’t hesitate to help Stroger when he faces re-election in 2010. But more employees mean more future retirees (unless they’re all fired). And more retirees mean more pensions. So perhaps the pension board isn’t completely off the mark by implying impending doom for the county’s pension system.