Stroger's Critics Draft an Alternative Budget
Commissioners Want to Cut Spending, not Raise Taxes
Monday, November 24, 2003
by Allison Hantschel
A group of mostly freshman county commissioners opposed to Cook County Board President John Stroger's proposed budget will announce their own "tax relief and waste reduction act" today, promising to cut spending instead of raising taxes.
"At a time when families are hurting and tightening their own budgets, government ought to be doing the same," said commissioner Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago). "Our goal is to get realistic with our revenues and expenditures in this budget and abate taxes rather than increase them."
Claypool, along with along with commissioners Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston); Mike Quigley (D-Chicago); Gregg Goslin (R-Glenview) and Anthony Peraica (R-Riverside), are asking for less spending.
They want to cut about 2 percent, spending $44.4 million less next year than the county spent this year.
Their budget asks for 6 percent less spending than the $2.9 billion Stroger has asked the board to appropriate for next year.
Suffredin said those cuts could come from leaving about 2,000 vacant positions unfilled and carrying over this year's unspent revenue.
"A year ago, we had the same number of vacancies, the same as a year before that," he said. "Those would never be filled, yet they're budgeted for, both salaries and benefits."
The commissioners said the spending cuts would allow them to reduce the total tax levy by $100 million.
Two weeks ago, Stroger proposed an increase in the county sales tax and a new tax on leased cars and equipment to close a $100 million shortfall in the 2004 budget.
Under his proposal, the county's portion of the sales tax would increase to 1 percent, up from 0.75 percent. The increase would push the overall sales tax in Chicago to 9 percent, including the state and city portions.
Stroger also called for a new 4 percent tax on leases for everything from cars to construction equipment to tuxedos.
Together, the proposals would pump about $60 million into the $2.9 billion budget, which funds four hospitals, the court system and the county jail.
By comparison, the state of Illinois budget is $52 billion.
Stroger claimed the sales tax increase would add only pennies to most everyday purchases.
With increases in health care costs and negotiated salary increases for the county's unionized workers, Stroger said he is forced to look for new sources of revenue. He has resisted increasing the county's property tax levy and told department heads and countywide office-holders they could not ask for more programs or staff without devising ways to pay for it.
And while Stroger's critics stoke the perception the budget is bloated, his aides expressed frustration, saying the budget over which Stroger has direct control is lean.
The 4.3 percent increase in the overall spending plan over last year is almost entirely related to the costs of health care.
Still, stories of questionable spending hurt Stroger's credibility in requesting more money from taxpayers. In May, he shepherded a $288,000 contract with a politically connected consulting firm for advice on cleaning Stroger Hospital.
Stroger's office did not respond to requests for comment.