Preckwinkle: Restore state funding or we'll cut staff, services

Preckwinkle predicts cuts, says $225 million is at risk

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle says her administration will lay off staff and cut child support services and programs to reduce recidivism, boost economic development and improve public health if the state doesn't restore funding by summer.

Preckwinkle, a Chicago Democrat, spoke to the Daily Herald Monday evening in advance of a county board finance committee meeting today dedicated to examining the impact of an Illinois budget standoff lasting eight months.

Without a state budget, her office says, the state is putting nearly $225 million in revenue at risk for the county this fiscal year ending in November. That's on top of $66 million Illinois already owes Cook County from the year before.

“If we don't have a budget by the end of June, the end of the state's fiscal year, we're going to have to take some drastic steps: Either (scale) back programs or deciding not to carry them,” she said.

According to figures provided by her office, the county could lose $125 million in general fund revenue in 2016, as well as $99 million in grant funding.

Of that $99 million, $68 million is in federal grants the state is responsible for administering. Another $18 million is in state child support agreements and $12 million is in state grants for public safety, health, and economic development, Preckwinkle's office says.

Preckwinkle, who says she has not spoken to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner since last spring other than a quick “hello” at political events, said legislators and lobbyists she's spoken to predict there might not be a budget agreement until after the November election, when politicians have more political cover for casting tough votes.

Preckwinkle this year successfully pushed for the passage of a penny on the dollar sales tax increase, as well as a hotel and motel tax to help plug a $200 million budget shortfall.

“We've spent the last five years trying to be responsible stewards of taxpayers' money,” Preckwinkle said. “We've reduced our operating budget, the number of employees we've had, reduced expenditures. We've pretty much cut everything we can cut.”

Preckwinkle says she believes many county residents who are not directly affected by the budget impasse are unaware of the gravity of the situation.

“It's really important you have an informed electorate,” she said. “I don't think (many) of the people of Illinois realize the devastating nature of what's happening to us.”

Rauner, a former private equity investor, has linked a budget deal to passage of a series of pro-business reforms he says would improve the state's climate, a negotiating tactic some Democrats in particular have balked at.

“You don't put your agenda in a budget,” said Cook County finance committee chair John Daley, who served in the state House and Senate while Republicans Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar were governor. “You have to move on eventually and say we need a budget for the people of this state. This, the fact that we're coming at almost year two (without one), it's a mistake.”

However, Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider, of Bartlett, says Rauner is being blamed for decades of mismanagement by Democrats.

“I'm actually quite proud of the governor for holding the line,” Schneider, who is also the chairman of the state Republican Party, said. In the meantime, he said, those at the county “need to sit down with calm heads and look (at how) without a budget, how can we provide as many services as we can without devastating programs.”

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