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County Board newcomers: Find waste and eliminate it

Monday, December 15, 2003
Crain's Chicago Business

The rejection by his fellow board members last week of a $3-billion budget proposed by Cook County Board President John H. Stroger Jr. doesn't guarantee a lean county government. It doesn't guarantee an end to tax hikes. And it doesn't guarantee that unproductive patronage workers will be banished from public payrolls.

But it's a start. And we should all be happy for that. Happy — and resolved to keep after the surprising coalition of board members who rejected Mr. Stroger's plan, to pursue policies that would make county government responsive to citizens rather than just political insiders. We should also be after those who were prepared to vote with Mr. Stroger to reconsider their loyalties to an approach to public-sector management that is out of step with the times.

Chicago news organizations don't often acknowledge each other's fine work. We think it's worth mentioning here, however, that the Chicago Tribune's tough editorial preceding the budget vote provided valuable encouragement to board members to do the right thing.
It's doubtful that the eventual county budget will be much smaller than the $3 billion Mr. Stroger sought, though even modest trims could help avoid the tax hikes that so offended some board members. More important than the precise dollar figure is that the money be well spent. Illinois can't afford to operate inefficiently at any level. The list of things that government needs to do — provide better education, stronger police protection, higher-quality health care — is endless. But the dollars available are finite. Providing cushy jobs for friends and acquaintances of political insiders is a luxury we no longer can afford.

We'd like to see the newly activist board members dig into county operations. Find the waste and get rid of it. Set standards for productivity and then enforce them. Bring some private-sector management expertise to bear on a bureaucracy too long run by political hacks.

Insiders and voters alike often throw up their hands and declare that fixing inefficient government operations is impossible. Well, it isn't. It takes will and a modest amount of expertise. Fix one thing and you'll find you have the will to take on the next challenge. Let's get started.



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