Civic Federation: Plenty of blame to go around for 2009 Cook budget

 
 
Published: 12/19/2008 12:04 AM | Updated: 12/19/2008 12:34 AM

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger has been roundly criticized for next year's proposed budget, but in a new report, the Civic Federation says county board members should share in the brickbats.

It was the county board, after all, that earlier this year overwhelmingly approved $270 million in union and non-union salary and benefit increases, the report points out. And the board also unanimously approved $140 million in other contract increases while still owing $145 million in sales tax anticipation notes issued this past summer to limp through the year.

"In sum, Cook County government made huge spending commitments before considering how to pay for them, an act that is both reckless and irresponsible," said the report by the federation, scheduled to be formally released Friday, when Civic Federation President Lawrence Msall will testify in opposition to the county's 2009 budget proposal.

The report goes on to criticize Stroger's plan to borrow $364 million to pay for certain operating expenses in the 2009 budget, a position that has been the chief criticism of Stroger's budget and, as yet, has not garnered the votes to pass.

"We urge the administration to withdraw its spending proposal and, instead, fund the obligations ... from current receipts. This may well necessitate spending or personnel reductions, or both."

Donna Dunnings, the county's financial officer, said she appreciates the federation's concerns, but notes other governments have borrowed for their self-insurance funds just as the county is doing. The fund pays for legal judgments and settlements against the county.

"This is a practice that is done for large municipalities," said Dunnings. She agrees, however, that the county should not borrow to pay pension obligations, but that the funding mechanism was agreed to before she became CFO and she is merely trying to pay for a legal obligation the county agreed to.