Cook County leaders demand money from somewhere
Friday, February 22, 2008
Call it profiles in political courage.
Four elected Cook County officials and one department head gathered Thursday to badger county commissioners to give them more funding, but all of them refused to say what tax should be raised to pay for it.
"The criminal justice system … will be taking part in chaos" without more money, Cook County Public Defender Edwin Burnette said.
Burnette even tried to put some legal might behind his stand by suing county board President Todd Stroger on Nov. 16, 2007, seeking a judge's permission to hire more attorneys and prevent employees from taking cost-saving furlough days.
That would appear to conflict with Burnette's public pronouncement on Dec. 27, 2006, that he was willing to cut his budget through furlough days and staff cuts as Stroger had requested. Asked about that Thursday, Burnette said a reporter didn't understand the lawsuit but he did not elaborate. His lawyer, Bill Hooks, has previously told the Chicago Tribune that although Burnette initially supported the cuts, he later was hit with staff cuts and furlough days he hadn't expected.
Taxpayers are paying for lawyers to both prosecute and defend Burnette's suit.
While Burnette did not offer ways to fund new attorneys, Sheriff Tom Dart said he has offered new ways to generate revenue in his budget through fines and fees. But he conceded that wouldn't raise enough to cover what his department needs.
He too refused to back a specific tax.
"I didn't run for county board so I didn't agree to take on the job of putting a county budget together," said Dart.
Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown also wouldn't bite.
"If we go down the line, one at a time, and say we support any level of taxes, where are we? We're still at the point that the county board must vote. We have no authority, so to ask us is a rhetorical question," said Brown.
Even State's Attorney Dick Devine, who is not running for public office again, wouldn't get specific.
"We are not in a position to know the entire makeup of revenue streams and possible revenue streams," he said.
Recorder of Deeds Gene Moore stood with the others at the press conference but did not speak.
County Commissioner John Daley -- who has forthrightly said he supports an increase in the sales tax -- defended the elected officials, saying it's the board's job, not those taking part in the press conference, to suggest taxes.
He said he regretted grilling the elected officials on taxes when they appeared before the board previously at budget hearings. When he did, only Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Joseph Berrios said he would support taxes, and it became the centerpiece of Berrios' opponent's platform in the Feb. 5 election.
Daley did suggest why the elected officials might be reluctant to get specific about taxes.
"If these individuals were to answer that -- it was used politically against Joe Berrios … because he answered it honestly."