Two of Cook County's up-and-coming reform-minded leaders are set to square off in a battle for budget dollars.
Tom Dart, the Cook County Sheriff, is refusing to cut his office's budget the 16 percent mandated by recently elected County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. The impasse could mark the first showdown of Preckwinkle's administration, and could dictate the future of her plans to balance the budget.
Preckwinkle is seeking the budget cut because the county as a whole is overspending by 16 percent. When sworn in, she asked every department to try and find ways to cut its budget by that amount to erase the deficit.
Most have been cooperative, but Dart and State's Attorney Anita Alvarez have been a bit more feisty on the question.
The sheriff in particular has resisted tightening his department's belt much further, saying that any more reductions would force him to take uniformed officers off the streets.
The Chicago Tribune has more on Preckwinkle's growing frustration with Dart:
"The sheriff's view is that if I make him make cuts the sky is going to fall, and he's wrong," Preckwinkle told the Tribune editorial board, referring to Dart's sarcastic suggestion last week that he cut his entire budget and patrol the county on his bicycle.
"The cuts that we are going to propose are not to the jail staff, although he's clearly got issues there, and they're not to his policing function," she added. "What we're proposing is cuts in other places and that he manage his office more effectively, which I believe he can do."
And as the Sun-Times reported last week, Preckwinkle isn't unwilling to play a bit of hardball with the powerful and popular sheriff. "We're obliged to submit a balanced budget, we hope for their help and cooperation and we'll submit a balanced budget whether or not we get their help and cooperation," she said at a news conference.
The county departments have a deadline of February 1 for submitting their reduced budgets, as that's the day Preckwinkle will bring her budget before the County Commissioners. They will vote on it by the end of that month.