CHICAGO

Cook County Budget: Toni Preckwinkle Proposes Steep Cuts, Mass Layoffs

02/02/2011 11:54 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Toni Preckwinkle won election as Cook County Board President handily. She took wide margins in the primary and the general, from all over the city and the suburbs, and was swept into office carrying the mantle of reform.

Yesterday, she laid out just how painful that reform will be.

In her first-ever budget address, Preckwinkle outlined a 16 percent spending cut from almost every department in the county, concomitant with the 16 percent budget deficit facing the county. Out of a $3.1 billion budget, the deficit is roughly $487 million.

The Board President started in her own office, and the cuts were severe. 418 employees in the offices she controls will be laid off, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune. Preckwinkle herself took a 10 percent pay cut.

Some other county elected officials signed on to her proposed cuts. Newly elected County Assessor Joe Berrios announced he would lay off 53 workers in order to meet the 16 percent budget cuts -- although, miraculously, the Berrios family members he hired to the office were spared the axe.

Others fought the cuts. Sheriff Tom Dart and Preckwinkle got into a spat over the cuts last week, with Preckwinkle telling the sheriff to make the cuts in his department or else she'd do it for him. Ultimately, they negotiated a compromise: Dart plans to cut 12 percent from his budget. And State's Attorney Anita Alvarez complained her way down to a 10 percent cut.

All told, the budget as it stands would cost 1,075 jobs, out of the county payroll of around 23,000. At the end of the day, that total could rise as high as 2,000. Other cuts, additional revenues, and a restructuring of the county debt are expected to close up the budget deficit.

Budget experts were overwhelmingly pleased at the results of Preckwinkle's travails. "We have never seen this level of detailed preparation and innovation in a budget proposal from a County Board president before," said Laurence Msall, president of the budget watchdog Civic Federation, to the Tribune. "Without a doubt, this is a new day."

But Preckwinkle wasn't gloating. "While some people who are being laid off were clearly slackers or shirkers, the overwhelming majority were good and decent people who just got up every day and went to work and tried to do a good job. It's very painful to me that one of my first tasks in public office -- in this office -- is to put so many people out on the street," Preckwinkle said, as reported in the Sun-Times.

Her budget now goes before the County Board, where commissioners are no more eager than anyone else to make layoffs and cutbacks.

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