(TNS) — Cook County, Illinois Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Thursday will present a $6.2 billion spending plan that her administration says covers the smallest deficit she has faced since taking office in 2010 and proposes no new taxes or fees.
“For 10 years we’ve made hard choices and difficult decisions. I think that it’s reflected in the fact that we had a very modest gap to close,” Preckwinkle told reporters Wednesday. “We faced different challenges at different points in my tenure."
But although Preckwinkle has managed to whittle projected budget deficits from about $487 million in 2011 to $18.7 million in 2020, the deficit is expected to start climbing again next year, a summary of her budget proposal shows.
The county has yet to find revenue sources to offset growing costs from operating its two hospitals and providing non-compensated health care to poorer residents. The county faces a projected budget gap of $109 million in 2021, a figure that rises steadily to about $307 million by 2024.
“We clearly face some challenges, and the principal challenge we face is around uncompensated care in the health care system,” Preckwinkle said. “And believe me that is something I’ve talked to our health care managers about and intend to talk to the board about: What is their strategy for addressing this significant challenge? I think I’ll leave it at that.”
Preckwinkle’s proposed $6.18 billion budget, which establishes the spending priorities of the county, marks a spending increase of roughly $260 million compared with last year’s proposal. Much of the money, $2.8 billion, goes to the county’s health and hospital system, which covers health care costs for lower-income, uninsured and underinsured residents.
Her second highest expenditure of $1.3 billion is for public safety.
In her proposal, Preckwinkle permanently eliminates 638 vacant health care positions. Those nursing, patient care coordinator and administrative jobs have long been empty, Preckwinkle said. Her staff said patient care will not be compromised by the job cuts.
At the same time, Preckwinkle is adding 265 positions. Most of those new jobs are in State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office, the Clerk of the Circuit Court and Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ office, and would provide additional staff to help process expungements, pretrial services and address problems of gun violence, Preckwinkle said.
That move reflects Preckwinkle’s longtime push for criminal justice reform by adding money to the offices that manage the court’s bond system and oversee programs that have long kept poor defendants in jail.
“Black and brown communities have been devastated by the war on drugs and disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system,” Preckwinkle said. “Whatever we can do to kind of right that wrong at the behest of government. Since black and brown people are disproportionately impacted … we should do everything in our power to expunge their records and help make them whole.”
There are 16 positions being added to the county Board of Review and 17 positions added to county Assessor Fritz Kaegi’s office in an effort to help process property tax appeals.
Preckwinkle presented a preview of her recommended budget in June and kicked off a six-month process of negotiating the expenses and cuts, and discussing them with the public.
In her earlier budget preview, Preckwinkle predicted her office would collect $3.3 million from cannabis taxes and about $3.3 million as a result of the sports wagering act. Now, her office says there won’t be any revenue in the coming year from recreational marijuana, which becomes legal Jan. 1, and that sports wagering, which has yet to get off the ground, will bring in only about $1.75 million in tax revenue.
Her proposed spending plan isn’t likely to face significant opposition from county commissioners, since it includes no divisive spending cuts and doesn’t hit up taxpayers for additional money.
Preckwinkle’s office will unveil an interactive budget website that is color-coded and will allow residents to dig deeper into how tax dollars are managed. Public hearings will run through early November with a final vote set for Nov. 21.
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