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Stroger opponent brings toys to meeting to stress what he says is board's similarity to movie

Wednesday, February 02, 2005
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

The metaphorical zoo that's at times the Cook County Board became a literal zoo Tuesday as commissioners protesting the county budget process brought toy groundhogs to the board meeting.
The groundhogs even issued their own news release, calling on county board President John Stroger (D-Chicago) to restructure county government.

The stunt was organized by Stroger opponent Commissioner Michael Quigley (D-Chicago), who was referring to the movie "Groundhog Day," in which Bill Murray is doomed to repeat the same day over and over.

"It's a prop, but it has a very real significance. We learned absolutely nothing from last year," Quigley said, referring to county government's continuing financial problems.

Commissioners debated further Tuesday the best way to close a $75 million gap in the county budget, with Stroger sticking to proposed increases in the hotel and restaurant taxes while Quigley and others say they're close to covering the shortfall with cuts.

Quigley said that even with the cuts and revenue adjustments being proposed, Cook County's long-term budget problems will persist.

Both sides of the budget fight agree that next year's budget will likely have an even bigger deficit and be even tougher to solve.

Commissioner John Daley (D-Chicago), chairman of the board's finance committee, announced that he would further push back the schedule for approving this year's budget, with a vote now scheduled for Feb. 23 rather than Feb. 17.

That leaves a scant five days for any last-minute wrangling. County government could shut down completely if there's no budget by Feb. 28, the deadline under state law for approving the budget.

"You don't want to go down that road," board attorney Patrick Driscoll told commissioners.

The finance committee has asked all county department heads to cut 2 percent from their budget, a demand that has met with varying success.

Stroger's budget director, Donna Dunnings, said those promised cuts were worth $12 million, but Commissioner Anthony Peraica (R-Riverside) said he thought the cuts were worth closer to $28 million.

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