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5 On Board Have Plan to Cut Spending
Effort is to Avoid County Tax Hikes

Monday, November 24, 2003
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Trying to frame the discussion in advance of a budget showdown next month, five Cook County commissioners are sponsoring a major budget amendment that would drastically reduce proposed spending for 2004.

The proposal is a long shot--there are 17 members on the County Board -- but the commissioners say that if they get enough support, it would eliminate the need for a controversial sales-tax increase and a new lease tax.

They plan to release the proposal at a news conference Monday.

Officials in the administration of County Board President John Stroger, who has called for the tax initiatives to balance next year's proposed $2.99 billion budget, say the spending reduction the commissioners propose would require cuts in government service.

The commissioners disagree, saying the county annually appropriates more money than it spends, finishing each year with a multimillion-dollar fund balance. They say that if the appropriation better reflected the amount that would actually be spent, the county could not only avoid the sales tax increase and lease tax but also refund nearly $100 million in property taxes.

"This is the amendment that we think will frame the discussion for everything else," said Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who joined Commissioners Forrest Claypool, Anthony Peraica and Mike Quigley on Friday to talk about the proposal. Commissioner Gregg Goslin is also a sponsor of the proposal.

The proposal uses the projected operating expenditures for 2003 as a base figure, slashes it by 2 percent and then forwards it as the 2004 appropriation. The commissioners say it would reduce Stroger's proposed appropriation by $179 million, closing the budget hole and even making room for a tax rebate.

Stroger's staff disputed that the cuts could be made without reducing services.

About $60 million of the $200 million fund balance was a result of higher-than-anticipated revenues, particularly at the recorder of deeds' office. A fund balance of at least 5 percent is important for the county to maintain its high bond approval ratings, officials said.

"While we haven't seen the details of their proposal, it's clear that the magnitude of the cuts they are proposing would require huge reductions in service, and that's not something we could support," Stroger spokeswoman Caryn Stancik said.

Several commissioners are planning smaller individual amendments in hopes of finding savings to avoid the tax initiatives. Goslin, Quigley and Peter Silvestri also have a less drastic amendment that would hold the appropriation at the 2003 level.

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