Cook County predicts continued decline in budget deficit

Uncertainties in Medicaid enrollment are stinging the Cook County budget, but even so, the county on Wednesday unveiled a 2020 forecast with the lowest funding gap in nearly a decade.

In a meeting with reporters at the county office building, county board President Toni Preckwinkle and top county financial officers released projections for a $5.94 billion budget with a deficit of $18.7 million. The figure represents a continuation of a steady decline in the county's deficit since Preckwinkle came into office in 2011, when the shortfall was $487 million.

Preckwinkle emphasized that the budget, bolstered by new funding from marijuana sales, gambling and sales tax revenues, anticipates no increases in taxes or fees.

Officials said the primary driver of the gap between spending and revenues in the operating budget is a $38.2 million increase in personnel costs related to pay raises approved for county employees.

Included with the 2020 forecast was a revision of the fiscal 2019 budget showing an expected $103 million deficit in the Health Department budget. Officials said the primary factor in the discrepancy is Medicaid enrollment that was significantly lower than expected. Preckwinkle blamed the shortfall on policies by the Rauner and Trump administrations intended to reduce the number of Medicaid recipients and impede provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act that previously have helped the county.

The officials presented a revised forecast for 2019 showing how funds would be diverted to fill the $103 million Health Fund gap. They said Medicaid enrollment will likely continue to be uncertain in 2020 and predicted Health Fund declines of more than 5 percent in both expenses and revenues.

A complete look at the budget projections can be found at Budget hearings will be scheduled in July, with final approval expected in mid-November.

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