Cook County Board President
Todd Stroger Tuesday unveiled his 2009 budget with no immediate tax
increases, but critics say it has a backdoor tax increase because it
depends heavily on $364 million in borrowing for annually recurring
And while Stroger allies have said repeatedly they
don't have the votes to pass the borrowing, a survey of commissioners
Tuesday by the Daily Herald reveals that, in fact, they likely have the
bare minimum of nine votes to pass it, but want other commissioners to
join them so they are not forced to take the heat alone.
Commissioners Jerry Butler, Earlean Collins, John
Daley, Roberto Maldonado, Joseph Mario Moreno, Joan Murphy, Deborah
Sims, and Robert Steele all told a reporter they could support the
current bond team proposals for $104 million in borrowing for pension
funds and $260 million in self-insurance funds.
The administration's typical ninth vote, Bill Beavers,
was absent Tuesday and could not be reached for his position, but
Beavers is typically one of Stroger's most ardent supporters and it is
highly unlikely he would not support the measure as well.
In fact, two of the eight commissioners, who asked not
to be quoted directly, as much as admitted the administration has nine
votes, but that they are seeking other commissioners' votes so the
measure does not come off as a typical Stroger-bloc versus anti-Stroger
"As long as we have 10 votes," said one commissioner
privately when asked if that commissioner was ready to vote for the
borrowing through bonds. The commissioner later modified the statement,
saying at least 12 votes were preferred.
Commissioner Earlean Collins said she was ready to vote
for the proposal even with only nine votes, but said she too was tired
of posturing by anti-Stroger commissioners who signed off on the $104
million borrowing for pension obligations in the 2007 budget but now
didn't want to follow through.
While she doesn't have a problem with disagreements,
"you have to do that in a professional - way," she said. Voting against
the pension funding for political reasons, without an alternative plan,
when state law requires its payment by the end of this month, is simply
irresponsible, she said.
"People (voters) are tired of that stuff," said Collins. "That's a real problem here."
Collins said if the nine must carry the bond issuance
alone, they should do so and exact a penalty from the opposing eight
commissioners by reducing capital spending in the eight opponents'
districts so that they learn you can't get something for nothing.
"Let their people say to them, 'Where are my roads; where are my curbs?" said Collins.
The anti-Stroger commissioners say they're not posturing, only asking tough questions that need to be asked.
How, they ask, just one year after a $390 million
annual sales tax increase, is it necessary to borrow an additional $364
million to pay for recurring expenses that should be accounted for in
the annual budget?
"This is a re-election budget for Todd Stroger," said
Commissioner Claypool. The proposed budget, Claypool said, lets Stroger
continue to spend as he has been and, through borrowing, put off the
tax increase to pay for that spending until after 2010.
At least one of the anti-Stroger commissioners, Tony
Peraica, concedes that administration officials made it plain in 2007
budget hearings the $104 million would be borrowed. But they also point
out that the $260 million for the self-insurance fund was never part of
that, and the economy has soured since then, making it prudent to
re-evaluate the situation.
As far as the budget itself, details were slim as the
administration refused to release a copy of it to reporters as of late
Tuesday afternoon. Stroger said in his budget address it was a $2.94
billion budget. But how those numbers were possible - given that the
2008 budget was over $3 billion, and $390 million was added with the
sales tax increase, remained unclear.