08/15/2011 02:27 pm ET | Updated Oct 15, 2011

Good Government Through the Looking Glass: The Budget Process

Good and responsible government mandates complete transparency of the budget process, whether it's on the national, state, or county level. Operating with a budget shortfall at any level of government involves making tough choices, and these choices certainly don't become easier as budget deadlines approach.

In Cook County, we just released the preliminary budget estimates for 2012, projecting a shortfall of $315.21 million in the General Fund for 2012. While these economic projections are far from rosy, this early release of a preliminary budget is a first for Cook County. I want to be completely transparent about the county's precarious financial situation since operating with this big of a shortfall will impact the citizens of Cook County.  Leading by an example of accountability, I recognize that releasing these projections at the last minute would impede the budget process and further erode the public trust in government.

Instead of playing politics and hiding behind a veil of financial secrecy, I am committed to reforming the budget process so projections now have to be released far in advance. When I took office last December, we were five days into the fiscal year and there was no budget in place. This is why I issued an Executive Order mandating a preliminary budget be issued by July 31st of each year. Requiring preliminary budget estimates is the first step in implementing a more transparent and accountable budget process. This allows us not only have a better sense of our financial landscape but to better engage our stakeholders, including County residents, in the budget process.

But these are all tough choices, and the public should have a voice in how County government spends their tax dollars. That's why we created a budget website -- I want to hear from you! At, you can see a comprehensive look at the preliminary budget that breaks down the $315 million shortfall. The website has an interactive feature that allows user to build their own budget -- to see how reducing expenditures or increasing revenues would affect the current deficit. The new site also allows for my office to receive direct feedback from residents across the County which will be aggregated and posted on a weekly basis. Known as "Tell Toni," the information submitted in this feature will be presented at the upcoming public hearing on the preliminary budget that will be held on August 25th.

By allowing ample time to address these concerns, we can make responsible and rational choices. Leadership must send a clear signal that we have to lead by example to recognize the economic difficulties we face and work together to address these challenges.