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Cook County Board gives Stroger the OK to borrow $3.75 billion
Debt repayment could grow to $220 million a year

Thursday, September 18, 2008
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Despite opposition from three Democrats and one Republican, Cook County commissioners on Wednesday gave Board President Todd Stroger's administration authority to borrow $3.75 billion.

If all of the bonds are issued, the amount of money needed each year to repay county debt will increase to $220 million from $184 million, Chief Financial Officer Donna Dunnings said.

About $3 billion from the bonds issued would go to refinance existing debt, but only if the county can save 3 percent, or more than $90 million, she said. The administration also plans to use $376 million for construction projects, $260 million for the public health system's self-insurance fund and $104 million for pension debt put off last year.

The insurance and pension funding are operating expenses best funded with yearly revenue, not borrowing, said Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago). "We should be streamlining this government, not just papering it over with more debt and higher taxes," he said.

Stroger, who earlier this year won approval of a 1-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase that is expected to raise $426 million a year, said the county does not have enough revenue to cover the insurance and pension funds.

"How are you going to pay for it with money you don't have?" he asked. "You can't."



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