Commissioners reject furlough, shutdown days they voted for

September 21, 2011 (CHICAGO)

The board agreed to five furlough days and five government shutdown days to help offset a nearly $500 million budget deficit. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle calls the change of heart bad policy.

All commissioners make $85,000 a year. The furlough and government shutdown days would reduce their salaries by almost 5-percent.

Last February, the vote was unanimous. All 17 Cook County commissioners agreed to take 10 days off without pay when they passed the county budget; it's the same amount of time thousands of county employees must take in an effort to fill a huge budget deficit.

"This wasn't about being forced to do something, it was about collectively saying something needs to be done," Commissioner John Fritchey said.

"We can't ask our workforce to continue to do things we are not willing to do ourselves," Cook Co. Board President Toni Preckwinkle said.

William Beavers, who represents Chicago's South Side and south suburbs, said he has changed his mind.

"I decided not to take the furlough days because she didn't have the money for the hospitals, so my deal is off," Beavers said. He said his vote to take unpaid days was tied to keeping Oak Forest Hospital open. In an effort to save money, the county converted that hospital into an outpatient clinic.

Commissioner Earlean Collins also refuses to take furlough days.

"In my budget there is no contingency. Every dime I spend on transportation comes out of my salary," Commissioner Collins said.

Collins said she has to pay for many expenses out of her pocket because district office budgets are now equal, which reduced her budget.

Commissioner Deborah Simms, Robert Steele and Joan Patricia Murphy have also asked for their money back.

Board President Preckwinkle said every commissioner voted for these cuts.

"They thought it was a good idea then. I don't understand why they don't think it is a good idea now," Preckwinkle said.

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