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cCritics assail Stroger budget's trims
$3 billion plan called 'reckless' -- but some praise it

Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter

Health clinics will close, the wait to see a doctor will be longer and there will be fewer prosecutors in courtrooms, but no taxes will be raised in Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's 2007 budget proposal.
But critics say the budget unveiled Tuesday remains flush with patronage jobs and that Stroger walked away without figuring out exactly how to cut more than $100 million.
'We were blindsided'
And while the budget eliminates 1,492 positions from the county payroll, it also provides double-digit raises for top hospital administrators.
Stroger had a $500 million hole to fill in the $3 billion budget and wiped out a good chunk of the deficit by refinancing debt and increasing efforts to collect hospital bills.
The budget was kept so secret that even Cook County's elected officials didn't know what Stroger had cut until after the media and commissioners received it.
"We were blindsided," said Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, who increased revenue projections so much that her office was hit with only 3 percent cuts.
State's Attorney Richard Devine -- singled out in Stroger's budget speech for having programs not in line with his office's "core mission" -- saw almost $10 million slashed from his budget, including the elimination of alternative programs he says keep people out of jail.
Eliminate those programs, Devine said, and jail costs will go up -- a scenario he called "pennywise and pound foolish."
'Giving it an incomplete'
Sheriff Tom Dart is set to get 250 new jail guards, as mandated by a court order, but $20 million less for police and court services, along with the elimination of programs for women prisoners -- moves a spokeswoman called "reckless" and "incomprehensible."
And for all the cuts already made, there's more to come.
Stroger delivered a budget that does not say how to cut $27 million more from the sheriff's budget and $62 million more from the hospital budget, but indicates those cuts and others must be made in order to balance the budget.
That responsibility will apparently fall on elected officials and commissioners through a series of hearings that will take place before the budget must be passed Feb. 28.
Commissioner Mike Quigley gives the budget "good grades" for not including a tax hike, but "I'm giving it an incomplete because of all the blanks we still have to fill in."
'On the right path'
Commissioner Forrest Claypool said the budget hurts "the working poor, but protects the political class."
Laurence Msall of the Civic Federation, a watchdog group, said he's not fully analyzed the budget but it appears to put the county "on the right path" by forcing officials to justify all of their spending.

THE CUTS

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's $3 billion budget proposal includes:

•  Laying off about 450 of the county's 25,575 employees, while eliminating about 1,000 vacant jobs.
•  More than $100 million in unidentified cuts that still must come.
•  Closing 16 health clinics, including those in schools, Phoenix, Harvey and those on the West Side, Woodlawn and Near South Side in Chicago.
•  Obstetrics and gynecology services no longer available at Provident Hospital; most surgeries only available at Stroger Hospital; outpatient-only services at Provident and Oak Forest hospitals.
•  $20 million less for sheriff court services and police.
•  $2.2 million less for felony trial prosecutions.
•  11 fewer victim's witness assistants.




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