Preckwinkle presents county budget month early

October 25, 2011 3:18:03 PM PDT
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle says she has found a way to fill a $300 million hole in next year's budget. She proposes to do it with new layoffs, fees and by releasing nearly 1,000 Cook County jail inmates.

Preckwinkle presented her budget for the next fiscal year on Tuesday. In years past, raucous budget hearings that went late into the night after the new fiscal year had already begun. President Preckwinkle's budget was submitted nearly a month early with the hope of heading off the crisis mentality.

The budget includes the layoff of 1,000 county workers and proposes to spend four percent less than this year.

"I said it wouldn't be easy and I've kept my word: There's been nothing easy about this," Preckwinkle said.

The proposals are not only not easy, but also -- in some cases -- not politically popular. Nonetheless Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is proposing 14 of what she calls "revenue enhancements."

They include new taxes on tobacco products, beer, boat and car sales. The county may also begin charging $4.75 to park in its courthouse garages. Plus, those who live in unincorporated areas may be assessed a $150 per household fee to pay for police protection.

"There's no reason why 98% of people in the county should pay for police services for 2% of the people who live in unincorporated Cook County," Preckwinkle said.

"The one thing I disagree with the President on is that because the unincorporated areas already pay Cook County property taxes, they already pay for their own police protection," Cmsr. Larry Suffredin, Evanston, said.

Commissioner Bill Beavers, an ally of Preckwinkle's predecessor Todd Stroger, questions why she continues to phase out Stroger's extra penny on the dollar sales tax while still raising other taxes and fees?

"That one penny would have taken care of all of this but she's raising taxes more than one penny. I can't see anyone on this board voting for this budget unless something is wrong with them," Cmsr. Beavers said.

Preckwinkle also proposes releasing 1,000 non-violent offenders from the county jail to electronic monitoring. She says that would save $5 million a year.

"The war on drugs has failed to eradicate drug use. Instead it's led to the incarceration of millions throughout this nation," Preckwinkle said.

Reaction to the proposed new taxes and fees is already coming in. The Chicago Auto Trade Association points out the county has lost 50 new car dealerships in the last few years along with 2500 jobs. It says Cook County is already the priciest place in the area to buy a car, and adding to the cost is not the answer.

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