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No layoffs or tax hikes in Preckwinkle’s $6.1B county budget — but also no pot revenue or gambling jackpot
The proposed budget does find funding for new county employees to work on taxpayer appeals of property assessments and expunging past cannabis convictions.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019
Chicago Sun-Times
by Rachel Hinton

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is planning to unveil a $6.18 billion budget for 2020 on Thursday, a spending blueprint that promises no new taxes or layoffs but does eliminate hundreds of vacant healthcare positions.

The proposed budget also ratchets down earlier expectations of revenue infusions from newly legalized gambling and recreational marijuana, but does find funding for new county employees to work on taxpayer appeals of property assessments and expunging past cannabis convictions.

“Since black and brown people are disproportionately impacted by marijuana arrests, we should do everything in our power to expunge their records and help make them whole,” Preckwinkle said at an unveiling of her budget recommendation on Wednesday.

There will be 265 new jobs throughout the county, Tanya Anthony, the county’s budget director, said Wednesday.

Sixteen of those positions will be in the county’s Board of Review, and 17 will be added to Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi’s staff as both offices deal with a 15 percent increase in appeals over the past two years.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Chief Judge Timothy Evans also will see some new hires.

The county is expecting to handle 700,000 expungements of low-level marijuana convictions over the next few years under criminal and social justice measures included in the sweeping recreational marijuana law Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed this year.

Preckwinkle’s budget proposal includes money to bolster the county’s public safety arm to handle those expungements and to make sure other areas of the county’s public safety sector have the resources they need.

Funding is included for 89 new positions in the chief judge’s office for electronic monitoring, pre-trial officers and probation. And nine new assistant state’s attorneys will be hired to handle the marijuana expungements or serve in Foxx’s gun crimes strategies or other units. Other new positions will be added to the Clerk of the Circuit Court’s Office.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx speaks to the City Club of Chicago at Maggiano’s Banquets last year. File Photo. Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The rest of the 265 new positions in the budget proposal are spread across county departments to handle increased workloads or new duties.

No new taxes, fines or fees are included in the budget.

Preckwinkle also foresees no layoffs due to budgetary reasons. But the county’s health fund eliminated 638 vacant positions to fill its budget gap, Anthony said. Those positions include nurses and patient care coordinators.

The total headcount at the county is decreasing by 401 full-time employees, or nearly 2 percent, from the last budget year.

In June, Preckwinkle touted the structural changes she made in her first few years as County Board president as the reason for the budget gaps getting smaller — and part of the reason why the county would face its smallest budget gap, $18.7 million, since she took over.

That preliminary budget unveiled in the summer benefited from several new taxes passed by the Illinois General Assembly in the last days of May, including the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, the Illinois Gaming Act, the Sports Wagering Act and the Online Sales Tax.

In all, they amounted to roughly $9.8 million in revenue for 2020, according to the summer budget forecast.

On Wednesday, Ammar Rizki, Preckwinkle’s chief financial officer, said the county had lowered some of those numbers because of the way the state will be rolling the revenues out.

From left, Chief of Staff Lanetta Haynes Turner, County Board Toni Preckwinkle, Budget Director Tanya Anthony and Chief Financial Officer Ammar M. Rizki.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle addressing the Sun-Times Editorial Board last year. From left, Chief of Staff Lanetta Haynes Turner, Preckwinkle, Budget Director Tanya Anthony and Chief Financial Officer Ammar M. Rizki. File Photo. Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The county is no longer expecting any revenue from legal pot for the upcoming fiscal year. Tax revenue from legal weed is not expected until December 2020. Previous projections included $3.3 million in such revenue. Money from the Sports Wagering Act was expected to clock in at around $3.3 million, but now the county is projecting to receive around $1.75 million.

Preckwinkle said it’s clear the state had to get its “ducks in a row” on those larger measures passed during the last session.

The county could see choppy fiscal waters ahead as uncompensated health care provided by the county continues to rise — an increase of $104 million from 2017 to 2019.

The county’s projected deficit for the next fiscal year — the one following the period covered by this budget proposal — is currently $109.7 million.

“We clearly face some challenges, and the principal challenge that we face is around uncompensated care in the healthcare system and believe me, that’s something that I’ve talked to our health care managers about and intend to talk to the board about what is their strategy for, for addressing this significant challenge?” Preckwinkle said. “I think I’ll leave it at that.”

Preckwinkle will give her budget address Thursday at 10 a.m. It will come before the County Board for approval in late November ahead of the start of the 2020 fiscal year on Dec. 1.

“The budget reflects, you know, 10 years of hard work,” Preckwinkle said. “So, I’m proud of that 10 years of hard work.”

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