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No tax hikes, lots of equity spending in new Preckwinkle budge
The Cook County chief relies on strong sales tax growth and federal aid in her $8.75 billion plan.

Wednesday, October 05, 2022
Crain's Chicago Business
by Greg Hinz

With sales-tax receipts surprisingly peppy and hundreds of millions of dollars in federal COVID relief in hand, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today rolled out a proposed fiscal 2023 budget that contains no new taxes and continues to pump major new funding into social-equity programs.

The $8.75 billion spending plan being presented to the County Board Thursday also contains another bit of good news: After years of putting extra funds into its employee pension system thanks to a penny-on-the-dollar sales-tax hike, the retirement program will have a projected 70.7% of the assets needed to pay promised benefits – far higher funding ratio than city and state pension funds.

“We’ve worked hard to make this budget not only responsible but restorative,” Preckwinkle said, referring to efforts to put more cash into low-income neighborhoods. “I look forward to making a real impact on residents in Cook County.”

Under the proposal, total spending on operations and capital projects will rise 7.8% over 2022.

Preckwinkle did not detail specifically how she closed a previously projected $18.2 million budget gap for the fiscal year that starts Dec. 1. But she’s booking a projected $124 million increase in revenues from the existing sales tax, a 12.8% bump based on what has been a fairly strong economy and high inflation, which has driven up county receipts.

Financial aides say that figure is reasonable, along with other budget shifts, even if the country goes into a recession soon.

The budget also appropriates $270 million in U.S. COVID-relief money. Even with that, the county will have another $300 million left to spend in future years.

Preckwinkle, who’s running for a new term in next month’s election, has allotted much of that to programs designed help those who have not fared well in recent years.

For instance, a guaranteed income program in which 3,250 families will get a $500-a-month check that’s just coming on line will continue into a second year. So will a program that gives small businesses $10,000 grants, up to a total of $71 million.

Such equity programs will get an additional $34 million next year, largely in federal funds.

Preckwinkle also wants to grant the county’s Land Bank $12 million, and spend $11 million more on staffing as the criminal justice system phases out the use of cash bail.

Preckwinkle said the county is in such solid shape that it will be able to draw down and reallot $104 million in excess fund reserves, though much of that money will go toward other back-up accounts rather than being spent.

Total county employment, full-time-equivalent, will rise an anticipated 1%, to 23,731.

After years of rising figures, officials said they expect enrollment in the heavily subsidized County Care medical insurance program to decline, with the total count slipping from 426,000 to 366,000.

 



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