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Devine says budget cuts unsafe

Saturday, January 27, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

Prosecutors might be forced to cut plea deals with criminals, and felony trials will slow to a crawl if proposed cuts go through Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine warned Friday.
To a room packed with prosecutors and sympathetic county commissioners, Devine testified in a budget hearing that he could not forge a compromise with board President Todd Stroger's budget team and needs at least another $6 million to run his office.
"We are in a process of cuts that, I believe, jeopardize public safety," Devine said. "Unless we have a fair and effective justice system, we can't say we have a community."
Several commissioners said they wanted to work with Devine to put some money back into his budget.
Devine got a 10 percent cut in his general fund budget in Stroger's 2007 proposal. Combined with money generated by drug forfeitures and from grants, Devine would get $90.4 million in Stroger's 2007 budget proposal.
Like other department heads, Devine said Stroger's insistence on closing the budget gap without increasing taxes has taken precedence over providing basic service.
Fewer prosecutors will mean slower trials and more cases for already overloaded prosecutors, Devine said. The office's drug diversion program, which allows people charged with nonviolent drug possession crimes to undergo counseling instead of prosecution, will be cut.
Unlike other county budgets, Devine's budget is not broken down by facility. Devine did not say exactly who or where he will cut, so it's unknown how many prosecutors would be laid off from the Bridgeview and Markham courthouses.
Stroger's budget calls for at least $1.3 million in cuts through use of four unpaid furlough days for all employees, but Devine rejected it Friday, saying prosecutors already have been asked to forego cost-of-living pay increases for two years running.
Prosecutors, who are not unionized, also lag behind the unionized public defenders in pay, Devine said. Failing to fix those two issues for the third year running will prompt many more-experienced prosecutors to leave for greener pastures.
"We will lose the assistant (state's attorneys) who try the toughest cases," Devine said, citing, among others, the prosecution of serial killer Paul Runge.
Commissioners said they agreed with Devine that some of the proposed cuts were irresponsible and asked Devine to make a priority list of what he'd like to see added back into the budget if commissioners can find the money.
Pete Silvestri (R-Elmwood Park), in comments praised by several other commissioners, said he didn't think the state's attorney's office should be held to the same level of cuts as other agencies.
"Even our own administrators say there are things at the bureau of health that can be changed, that can eliminated," Silvestri said. "There's been no showing that the way we run a prosecutor's office is a problem. ... That you're guilty of waste, of not collecting revenues."
Devine said the comments were welcome after he and Stroger reached an impasse in budget negotiations. Devine said he offered to cut $10 million from his original proposed budget -- which was higher than last year's budget -- and Stroger asked for more.
"I was encouraged that the finance committee seems to be very involved and are not just accepting some of these things," Devine said after the hearing.

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