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Skip hearing, health chief told
Stroger's order bothers allies

Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Cook County Board President John Stroger ordered his health chief not to appear before commissioners Monday to discuss his budget, a move that irked even some of Stroger's supporters.

On Monday, commissioners heard a second time from some officials whom they were urging to trim expenses further in an effort to close a $73 million budget shortfall without resorting to new taxes.

But when Finance Committee Chairman John Daley, the mayor's brother and a longtime Stroger ally, called Dr. Daniel Winship, commissioners learned Stroger had told him not to attend.

The Bureau of Health Services' proposed 2005 operating budget of $941 million is nearly one-third of the county's total spending plan. The bureau oversees Stroger Hospital and two others, the Public Health Department and nearly 30 outpatient clinics.

"It bothered me, it bothered the board members because I would have liked him here to defend his budget," Daley told reporters after Monday's hearing. "He should have been here."

Caryn Stancik, Stroger's spokeswoman, said Stroger cut $43 million from the health bureau's original budget request. Stroger also eliminated more than 400 vacant job slots.

Stancik said that over the last decade Stroger has cut 16 percent of the positions under his control while the other elected officials have trimmed less than 1 percent.

"The president is tired of balancing the budget on the back of the bureau of health when more and more people are losing their health insurance," Stancik said.

Under Stroger's recommendation, the health bureau's budget would increase by 6.5 percent over 2004.

Within the overall health budget are proposed spending increases of 12.8 percent at Provident Hospital and 11.8 percent at the clinic system.

Commissioners have been asking department heads to trim their spending proposals by 2 percent, which for the health bureau would amount to nearly $19 million.

Winship, hired last year and going through his first budget cycle, expressed a willingness during his budget presentation last month to work with commissioners to cut costs.

Under state law, commissioners must approve the county budget by the end of February. As proposed by Stroger, the budget includes new 2 percent taxes on restaurant meals and hotel rooms as well as an annual $200 tax on amusement devices such as video games.

Daley said Monday the taxes lack support from commissioners, "so we are going to have to make some cuts."

He called another meeting for Thursday and said he would extend another invitation to Winship.

Commissioner Larry Suffredin said he expects Stroger will reconsider sending Winship, calling it a "huge mistake" to prevent his appearance Monday.

"If not, then I would expect that you will see a number of cuts to the hospital's budget that will not affect services but will make the administration have to work a little harder," Suffredin said.

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