Preckwinkle: Cook County budget is balanced, no new taxes

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle introduced a $5.9 billion budget for next year that features no new taxes.

Preckwinkle said the budget, which is about $700 million more than the current budget, is balanced.

Preckwinkle, who announced last month her intention to run for mayor of Chicago, presented the plan Wednesday afternoon. It ultimately will be up to Cook County Board members to make changes to the plan or approve it.

In June, county officials anticipate the budget deficit to be $81.8 million, the lowest mark since Preckwinkle became Cook County president in 2010. After the unpopular county soda tax was repealed in October 2017, the budget deficit for fiscal year 2018 was about $315.9 million.

County officials said the projected deficit was closed through a combination of increased hospital revenue, projected sales tax growth and heightened tax enforcement efforts.

The county expects its health care program to see a $611 million increase in revenue, driven by a boost in members. Tanya Anthony, the Cook County budget director, said county officials expected having about 225,000 CountyCare members in 2018 but actually have closer to 332,000 members. They project that number to grow to 345,000 members in fiscal year 2019.

Preckwinkle said her team has had to make a number of difficult decisions over the last eight years to get the county's finances to the point where the officials can have a balance the budget without raising taxes, fines or fees.

"My administration has avoided quick fixes and one-time solutions," Preckwinkle said. "We have done the hard work and heavy lifting to instill sound fiscal discipline and to ensure that more than 90 percent of our annual budgetary solutions are structural in nature."

Among those structural changes is reducing the staff. Since 2017, more than 1,000 workers have been let go. The budget proposal calls for hiring 68 new employees next year.

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