Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's first budget places layoffs on the table to help close a $487 million budget hole for the county's fiscal year 2011. The layoff estimates have run as high as 2,150 and as low as 1,075; the final number will be fleshed out during a series of budget hearings scheduled for the month of February.
During her budget address this morning, Preckwinkle said she'd close the budget shortfall by cutting "wasteful government spending" and remaking county government processes. "It is not enough to simply cut government," she said. "We have to rethink the way it works." An ongoing desk audit in the president's office, for example, will sort out staff functions there and help Preckwinkle examine issues like the ratio of managers to regular employees. She said her FY2011 budget found new ways to bring in revenue. Specific examples of the latter include "aggressively" going after late and unpaid taxes; bringing some fees in line with costs, such as at a county law library; closing tax loopholes; and shifting part of the foreclosed home sales process back to Sheriff Tom Dart's office, which will allow him to bring in associated fees.
The foreclosed home deal helped Dart and Preckwinkle come to an agreement announced this morning; they were at odds about cutting the 16 percent she had asked each of the 11 elected county officials to find. Dart has agreed to cut 12 percent from his budget, which will mean around 100 layoffs, he said at a press conference today. Preckwinkle said that the county health system will lop off 21 percent of the subsidy it gets from county government for next fiscal year, a move that allowed some other governmental units to cut less.
A question that will get answered as the county budget hearings start to unfold is who, precisely, will be targeted for layoffs: managers, front-line county employees working with the public every day, or some combination of both (note that some of Preckwinkle's old aldermanic colleagues think the city's management corps is bloated). This is a critical question. Some county services -- like the health system -- are already stressed.