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More Weed Taxes? New Hospital? What To Watch For At Cook County Board

Tuesday, January 14, 2020
WBEZ News
by Kristin Schorsch

More Weed Taxes? New Hospital? What To Watch For At Cook County Board

Kristen Schorsch

January 14, 2020

Jason Marck/WBEZ

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Thursday unveiled her 2020 county budget. At nearly $6.2 billion, it's balanced and includes no new taxes or fees.

Everything from legal weed to the hunt for a new CEO for Cook County’s health system is expected to come up this week when the Cook County Board of Commissioners holds its first meeting of the year.

The 17-member board, led by veteran Democratic Board President Toni Preckwinkle, controls a $6.2 billion budget. The bottom line: Commissioners’ decisions impact your wallet.

The bulk of the meetings are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. Here’s what to look out for.

Will Cook County impose its own tax on recreational pot?

Recreational weed in Illinois became legal on Jan. 1, and Cook County is among the governments that want to cash in. The County Board could vote to institute a 3% tax on weed sales. That would be in addition to taxes from the state, Chicago or suburban governments, making newly-legalized products like pre-rolled joints and edibles really expensive.

The Cook County tax would start July 1 and would likely raise less than $1 million in revenue in 2020, county Chief Financial Officer Ammar Rizki said last month. The majority of the county budget goes to health care and public safety, and that’s likely where the tax money would be spent, Rizki said.

The potentially new tax would come after Preckwinkle and commissioners have touted that the 2020 budget they passed in November had no new taxes, fees or tax hikes.

A new South Side hospital

Cook County runs one of the largest public health systems in the nation, with two hospitals, a network of clinics and a Medicaid health insurance plan for people who are low-income or disabled.

The health system wants to replace its Provident Hospital on the South Side with a new, modern one that’s estimated to cost around $241 million. The move comes as many hospitals, including Provident, struggle to fill their patient beds. The new Provident would have fewer patient beds than the current medical center, and include outpatient care.

Commissioners are scheduled to consider a resolution supporting a new Provident.

Preckwinkle wants bigger role in finding Cook County Health’s next CEO

Dr. John Jay Shannon oversaw the county-run health system for about five years until the hospital board in November voted unanimously not to renew his contract.

Shannon faced a number of challenges. He got into a months-long flap with the county inspector general about the health system’s Medicaid business, and he eliminated hundreds of vacant jobs heading into 2020 to help fill a budget gap.

Among his biggest hurdles was how to address the rising amount of medical care the county health system provided without getting paid for it. The tab is expected to reach nearly $600 million this year.

The hospital board plans to undergo a national search to replace Shannon. But first, Preckwinkle wants more say in the matter.

Preckwinkle, who’s also the Cook County Democratic Party boss, already nominates the hospital board’s members, who are subject to confirmation by the majority-Democratic County Board.

But Preckwinkle is now proposing a resolution that would have the hospital board consult with her and commissioners before the recruitment process begins. The idea is to get feedback on what kind of responsibilities, experience and background the CEO should have.

A push for Cook County’s watchdog to be more transparent

Preckwinkle also wants county Inspector General Patrick Blanchard to share a summary report of his findings with the people and agencies he’s investigating, and allow them time to respond before releasing the information to the public.

Blanchard has said that could hinder his investigations, and his mission to root out waste, fraud and corruption in county government.

The Civic Federation, a Chicago watchdog group that analyzes local government finances, recommended the proposed change in response to the volley between Blanchard and the county health system. Shannon has said he was blindsided by the bombshell report Blanchard released in June.

Kristen Schorsch covers Cook County politics for WBEZ. Follow her @kschorsch.



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