Foes of Cook County Board
President Todd Stroger claimed victory this week after the
administration apparently gave up its plan to borrow $360 million for
Instead, commissioners cut most departments roughly 4
percent from the level they had planned to fund them at. The exception
was the hospitals and clinics system, which commissioners went lighter
on in recognition of its new independent management board, cutting only
Stroger had initially asked commissioners for roughly
$770 million in borrowing authority to cover $109 million in pension
payments, $260 million to fund the county's lawsuit expenses for about
three years, and about $400 million for capital projects like facility
repair and construction.
He initially gained the support of Republican
commissioners in that plan, who authorized the borrowing months ago,
but later turned against it after being soundly drubbed in local
editorial pages for borrowing millions just a year after a $380 million
sales tax hike.
Ironically, by persisting in his quest for the
borrowing for recurring expenses, Stroger lost more than $100 million
in capital projects, which initially hadn't even been questioned by the
board, as commissioners scrutinized the budget for areas to cut.
The loggerhead was broken Tuesday when Commissioners
Joseph Mario Moreno and William Beavers, two Chicago Democrats and
supporters of Stroger, offered an amendment with the cuts.
The cuts were not as dire as initially predicted as
county administrators revised their projections, accounting for new
monies they believe will arrive with the federal stimulus package now
working its way to President Barack Obama's desk.
Commissioner Forrest Claypool said the board ended up funding the lawsuit fund at $90 million, what it spends in a typical year.
How the pension payment of $109 million, which is now
overdue, will be paid is less clear, but there is talk of asking the
pension fund for permission to pay the amount gradually, rather than
all at once.
"The upshot to me is that it's a victory to taxpayers
because Todd Stroger's massive borrowing plan was defeated." said
Commissioner Forrest Claypool, a Chicago Democrat who led the
anti-borrowing revolt alongside Democratic Commissioner Mike Quigley,
also of Chicago.
A Stroger spokesman was not available for immediate comment Thursday.
While the roughly $3 billion budget has passed out of
the finance committee, it still needs full approval next week before
the entire board, but passage is expected since the finance committee
consists of all board members.