Preckwinkle gets support for 21 percent budget cuts
Several top Cook County officials lined up behind President Toni Preckwinkle today in promising to make 21 percent cuts in order to balance the 2011 budget.
Assessor Joseph Berrios, Board of Review Commissioners Larry Rogers Jr. and Dan Patlak, Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore, Chicago Commissioner John Daley and Health & Hospitals System Chief Executive Officer William Foley all publicly supported Preckwinkle at a midday news conference.
"The elected officials who've joined me today have demonstrated a serious commitment to solving the county's deficit," Preckwinkle said, "and all of them have pledged to cut 21 percent from their budgets."
Preckwinkle's office said they had received similar commitments from Treasurer Maria Pappas and Clerk David Orr, while Chief Judge Timothy Evans "relayed his commitment to trying to meet" the figure.
Conspicuous in their absence, however, were Sheriff Tom Dart and State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Foley's participation was especially important, Preckwinkle said, with the health-care system making up about a third of the county budget."
Yet, according to a budget summary released later in the day by Preckwinkle's office, public safety -- including the Cook County Jail and the court system -- accounts for $1.14 billion, or again about a third, with $700 million going to the sheriff's office and $150 million to the state's attorney.
"We'll work with her to find solutions that make sense to taxpayers and which fund the basic statutory responsibilities of a county government," Dart spokesman Steve Patterson said in a statement.
Dart's office has pointed to how it has committed to hiring hundreds of new officers at the jail in a court agreement, making deep cuts difficult. Yet he has resubmitted other ideas for cuts, including disbanding the Forest Preserve police and closing court buildings on evenings and weekends.
Preckwinkle has estimated that the county budget deficit is $487 million against last year's spending figure of $3.5 billion. The 21 percent cuts reflect a 16 percent cut annually, but crammed into the last three-quarters of the fiscal year after the 2011 budget is approved by the Board of Commissioners in late February.
Preckwinkle has asked all county department heads to submit their budgets by Thursday. She said her office would "lead the parade" in making the 21 percent cuts, and that she would be scheduling a series of public meetings to discuss how the budget is being balanced and what positions and services will be reduced.
"We have a tremendous budget challenge before us, and we have less than six weeks to meet this challenge," she said. "No one will be absolved, and no one will be alone in making the cuts that are necessary."