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Can live with funding levels, taxes: Devine

Friday, November 02, 2007
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
by Stephanie Potter

Cook County State's Attorney Richard A. Devine indicated Friday that he supports a tax increase to cover pay increases that the county board recently gave to prosecutors.
''As a general matter, I do support the concept that we have asked for it, you have given it to us and now we have to pay for it,'' Devine said.
The pay hikes, approved in July, came in response to protests from prosecutors who said their pay lagged seriously behind that of their unionized counterparts in the public defender's office.
Speaking during his annual budget address to the County Board's Finance Committee, Devine said some form of new revenue is needed so that prosecutors can continue to be fairly compensated.
However, Devine questioned the wisdom of tax proposals in Board President Todd H. Stroger's recommended $3.2 billon budget that ultimately would generate more revenue than is needed to close the county's projected $239 deficit for the 2008 fiscal year.
Among the proposed tax increases are hikes in gas and parking taxes and a jump in the county's sales tax rate from 0.75 percent to 2.75 percent. While the full impact of the sales tax increase wouldn't be realized in 2008, media reports have said the increases could generate revenues ranging from $900 million to $1 billion annually in future years.
''What I am saying is that I think it's a mistake for the board to raise $800 million in revenue through a process where the board says you need $300 million,'' Devine said.
County budget director Jarese Wilson pointed out that if the sales tax increase is approved, the county will see only about $142 million of it this year.
Devine's office saw 147 positions cut from his budget last year. In all, a total of 100 current employees and 44 prosecutors lost their jobs. Devine, whose office would receive $95 million in 2008 under Stroger's proposed budget, said his office is committed to holding the line on spending.
But he did ask county commissioners to adjust the proposed turnover rate for his office from 5 percent to 3 percent, where the rate is typically set.
Devine said the 5 percent turnover rate would effectively mean the loss of 37 attorneys in his office, which he said would be ''crippling.''
Wilson said the budget office would work with Devine's office on the turnover rate issue.
Devine said he requested only two new assistant state's attorney positions for next year, both of which went unfilled in Stroger's recommended budget. One of the positions was to be an attorney to focus on minority recruiting, while the other would oversee diversity training.
Some on the county board have criticized the state's attorney's office for not hiring more minority prosecutors. Devine said steps have already been taken to increase minority hiring, noting that this week 11 new assistant state's attorneys were hired, and nine of the prosecutors are minorities.
Some commissioners questioned Devine about increasing efficiency in the court system, with Commissioner Michael B. Quigley saying that courtrooms throughout the county often sit unused in the afternoon.
Another Finance Committee meeting is planned for next week at which Devine, Sheriff Thomas J. Dart, Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy A. Brown and Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans are expected to talk about coordination of services and ways to increase revenue.
Devine assured Quigley that ''if there are afternoon court calls, commissioner, we'll be there.''
Devine said he has worked with other public safety officials in the past and agreed that more efforts at coordination are needed.
He noted a successful effort between his office, the public defender's office and Criminal Division Presiding Judge Paul P. Biebel Jr. to reduce the backlog of criminal cases pending for more than two years.
''That's something we should do regularly,'' Devine said. ''It should be an ongoing part of the process.''



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