Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle recently presented her budget proposal for fiscal year 2014 to the Cook County Board. The plan sets out to balance the budget without imposing any new taxes, fines or fees, and has won praise from both my Democrat and Republican colleagues on the board. This is the kind of bipartisan spirit that leads to effective government.
Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, has said that it “holds the line on property taxes while completing the rollback of the Stroger sales tax hike.” This is something that President Preckwinkle and I promised during our campaigns and have worked hard to implement.
The majority of the preliminary budget deficit of $152 million was closed through an early expansion of the Medicaid program for the Cook County Health and Hospital System. Next year, Cook County taxpayers will pay $76 million less for healthcare delivered to county residents. Overall, if the budget is approved, the county subsidy will drop to $175 million.
When I first came into office in 2010, Cook County was paying close to $389 million to subsidize our healthcare system. We have been able to cut that amount by more than half. This is a major victory for suburban taxpayers who rarely use Stroger Hospital, or have little to no access to county healthcare.
An additional $15 million will be saved by eliminating 20 percent of the jobs that are vacant in all branches of county government. Also, more than $6 million or so is expected to be saved through contract modifications, energy efficiency measures and centralization of vehicle repair and fueling.
This budget reflects the hard work accomplished by the president and our Cook County Board. By cutting waste, eliminating inefficiencies and reforming county government we have solved more than $1.2 billion in budget deficits since I took office in December 2010.
What makes me even more proud, though, is that we were able to do all of this while rolling back the Stroger sales tax hike that was killing job growth in Cook County.
Much has been accomplished over the last three years, yet there is plenty of work left to be done. My pledge is to continue working hard on these issues, while ensuring that suburban taxpayers don’t foot the bill.
Jeff Tobolski is the Cook County commissioner for District 16, which includes the municipalities of Berwyn, Cicero, Forest View, McCook, Hodgkins, Lyons, Summit, Willow Springs, Countryside, Western Springs, La Grange, La Grange Park, Westchester, Berkeley, Broadview, Hillside, Brookfield, Riverside, North Riverside and Stickney.