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Promising no tax hikes, Preckwinkle angles for no-drama 2020 county budget

Tuesday, October 08, 2019
The Daily Line
by Alex Nitkin

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is expected to unveil a budget this week with no tax hikes or large-scale layoffs, a departure from previous years and a sharp contrast against the unprecedented budget hole faced by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

While Lightfoot looks for new revenue to plug the city’s $838 million budget shortfall, Preckwinkle is heading into 2020 with just an $18.7 million gap in the county’s budget — by far its lowest since the board president took office in 2011.

And while Lightfoot’s relationship with the City Council has shown signs of strain, the board that Preckwinkle will ask to approve her budget is stacked with more of the president’s allies than ever.

Former Comms. John Fritchey (D-12) and Richard Boykin (D-1), the leading critics of Preckwinkle’s aborted 2017 sweetened beverage tax, were both ousted in last year’s primary election. And former Comms. Gregg Goslin (R-14) and Tim Schneider (R-15), two of the board’s four Republicans, were defeated in November.

Commissioners were briefed on Preckwinkle’s budget proposal on Tuesday, officials said. The proposal’s details will be made public Wednesday night, ahead of the president’s budget address on Thursday.

In a news conference last month, Preckwinkle called the budget a “moral document” and promised it would not include any tax increases. But she has otherwise offered no hints at what it may show, and the county’s executive offices have mostly kept their requests out of the public eye.

Last year, just under half of the county’s $5.94 billion budget was allocated to the Cook County Health and Hospitals system, which administers Stroger Hospital and Provident Hospital.

Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi asked for a $30.2 million budget for 2020 and will get almost all of it — $30 million — in Preckwinkle’s proposal this week, according to a spokesperson. That’s a more than 5 percent bump over the assessor’s 2019 budget, allowing Kaegi to create 17 new positions in the office.

The offices under the president are projected to see about a 3 percent bump in next year’s budget over the $455.2 million it was allotted for 2019, according to Preckwinkle spokesperson Nick Shields. The increase “will go to a number of items and initiatives that fall under the President’s Policy Roadmap including efforts in our (information technology) department, Justice Advisory Council, Department of Revenue and our Office of Research, Operations and Innovation,” Shields said in a statement Tuesday.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx plans to ask for an increase in “resources necessary to pursue public safety and equal justice for all” beyond the $160.1 million her office was allocated last year, according to spokesperson Aviva Bowen, who declined to say how much more money Foxx would request.

Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli is “in agreement” with Preckwinkle’s office over a proposed budget for her office, according to a spokesperson, who did not disclose the amount. Last year, the county spent $77.6 million on Campanelli’s office.

Representatives of Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown (allocated $120.1 million in the 2019 budget), Chief Judge Timothy Evans ($271.9 million) and Sheriff Tom Dart ($600.2 million) did not respond to requests for comment.


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