The budget amendment put forth by the Preckwinkle administration to close Cook County’s $200 million dollar budget gap represents a real victory for working families in Cook County.
Throughout this turbulent budget season, Cook County commissioners have labored under the question of whether it was truly possible to balance the budget and maintain service levels without the projected revenue from the unfair and regressive sweetened beverage tax.
Advocates for the tax said it was impossible. But the Preckwinkle administration’s amendment – filled with tough choices between those positions and programs that are discretionary, and those that are necessary – proves that it is indeed possible to serve the interests of the county taxpayers, as well as those residents that county government exists to serve.
If the question is whether it is possible for county government to be both fiscally responsible and morally responsive to the needs of our most vulnerable citizens, the answer is a resounding yes.
Pitting the needs of the poor and the sick against the imperative to keep Cook County affordable for all residents was always a false choice. If the administration’s amendment passes, Cook County will finally have a budget that demonstrates the falseness of that choice.
Simply put, if we enact a budget that includes Preckwinkle’s proposed amendment, the administration and the Board of Commissioners will have provided the citizens of Cook County with a blueprint of what fiscal reform in county government can look like going forward.
The amendment ensures that the county will fulfill its twin missions of providing for the public safety and health of our most vulnerable, high-need populations, and that these objectives will be met while at the same time achieving meaningful savings. What is more, these savings will be achieved without laying off any prosecutors, public defenders, essential front line law enforcement officers or correctional guards.
And while many will focus on the elimination of certain vacant and middle management positions, it is also worth taking a pause to note the addition of one very important position: An investigator in the Office of the Inspector General that will be empowered to look specifically into allegations of sexual harassment. I introduced the amendment to create this position, as an acknowledgment that county government, just like all levels of government, is long overdue for an additional level of scrutiny on this issue.
During the heated debate over the sweetened beverage tax, many suggested that county government was incapable of closing a $200 million dollar budget gap without decimating services or reaching into the taxpayer’s pocket. They said the history of patronage, bloat and waste was simply too entrenched to overcome. They said that “Cook County” and “fiscal discipline” were two terms that could never be uttered in the same breath.
Well, they were wrong. The fiscal year 2018 budget season has taught us a clear lesson. When we work together, we can accomplish the difficult reforms that many once thought were impossible. This budget is just a first step and these achievements do not come without sacrifice. But the administration and my colleagues deserve praise for taking a decisive first step in the direction of fiscal reform. I look forward to building on this progress going forward.
Richard Boykin is a Cook County Board Commissioner representing the 1st District.