Cook County Board passes balanced $6.94 billion 2021 budget without tax hikes
Cook County commissioners unanimously passed a balanced, $6.94 billion 2021 budget Tuesday that officials say closes a $400 million projected shortfall due to the pandemic without hiking or imposing new taxes.
County leaders say they addressed the gap by eliminating 569 vacant full-time equivalent positions, taking $77 million from savings, holding off on some planned expenditures and acquiring federal relief dollars. Revenues also came in higher than projected, particularly from newer sources like recreational marijuana, gambling and online sales, officials said.
"Like many families in the Northwest suburbs, we had to scramble to find additional revenues," Commissioner Kevin B. Morrison, a Democrat from Elk Grove, said in a video posted on his Facebook page Tuesday. "We had to do more with less. But we found a way to close the gap without raising taxes. That's good news for all of us."
Republican Commissioner Sean Morrison of Orland Park said the spending plan is the first county budget he's voted in favor of since 2015.
"The 2021 budget under consideration, is one that has not placed an undue burden on our residents and businesses through a call for additional taxes and revenue," he said in statement posted online. "We have been fortunate to have received substantial federal CARES funding. It is that assistance which has largely made this possible.
"The obvious question that lies ahead is: Will we continue to receive federal assistance in the name of COVID or will we be charged to tackle the revenue deficit on our own ... through our own means?" he added.
Initiatives funded in the budget include $20 million over the next two years to assist businesses and residents in greatest need, with $5 million to expand support for small businesses, $2 million for workforce training, and $13 million to expand housing assistance, support for legal aid and foreclosure mediation, and provide residents with food, utility and direct cash assistance. The budget also calls for $20 million over the next two years for programs related to justice reform. That includes $5 million for anti-recidivism, violence prevention, restorative justice and youth development programming, and $5 million for housing assistance for those released from jail on electronic monitoring.
"During the challenging and extraordinary times, I am proud of putting forward a budget addressing the fallout of the pandemic and increasing equitable investment in Cook County without increasing taxes," County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said.
With the elimination of 569 vacant positions, the county is under 22,000 employees for the first time since Preckwinkle took office in 2010.
She also noted that the county has made supplemental pension payments of almost $1.6 billion above the required contribution since 2016, significantly reducing the county's unfunded pension liability. Last week, Moody's and Fitch both reaffirmed the county's stable outlook and credit ratings at A2 and A+, respectively, officials said.
For more information on the county budget, visit www.cookcountyil.gov/service/annual-budget.