Balanced budget includes no new taxes, fines or fees
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today presented a proposed $5.92 billion Executive Operating Budget Recommendation for Fiscal Year 2019 that confronts the County’s financial challenges while avoiding new taxes, fines and fees.
“We’ve had to make a number of difficult decisions over the last eight years that have helped put us in a position to present this balanced budget that provides essential public safety and public health services to County residents without raising taxes, fines or fees,” Preckwinkle said. “This has been possible because my administration has avoided quick fixes and one-time solutions. We have done the hard work and heavy lifting to instill sound fiscal discipline and to ensure that more than 90 percent of our annual budgetary solutions are structural in nature.”
The $5.92 billion recommendation is an increase of $712.2 million compared to FY2018. This figure includes a $647.3 million increase in the Health Enterprise Fund, driven primarily by the projected growth of CountyCare enrollment to nearly 345,000 members per month in FY2019. Additional cost drivers include programmatic expansion of surgery, dialysis and health center services. Increased costs were primarily offset by an increase in CountyCare membership resulting in $611 million in revenue.
Revenue growth in the form of a $52 million increase in projected sales tax and enhanced enforcement efforts generating $8.8 million in the collection of non-property taxes, such as the gas tax, further contributed to balancing the budget.
The Executive Operating Budget Recommendation closes an $81.8 million shortfall, driven by factors including growing legacy debt service costs and flat or declining revenue streams. The preliminary gap was comprised of $29.5 million related to the Cook County Health and Hospitals System (CCHHS) with the other $52.3 million part of the General Fund.
President Preckwinkle noted that 90 percent of proposed budget expenditures, excluding pensions and debt service, is budgeted for public health and public safety. Departments that operate under the President’s direct control only comprise approximately just under 5 percent of the budget.
Through a combination of fiscal prudence and with the advent of the Affordable Care Act, Cook County has reduced the direct health care taxpayer allocation by 74 percent, from $389 million dollars in 2010 to $102 million dollars in 2018. That amount covers the cost of healthcare for the detainee population in the County corrections system and funds the public health system, both services Cook County must provide under the law. This significant reduction has been accomplished while still providing more than $500 million dollars annually in uncompensated care to those who use our Health and Hospitals System.
“The County is expanding and improving services while at the same time reducing costs to taxpayers,” Preckwinkle said. “I am proud to say that our health care system is increasingly one of choice, not simply one of last resort.”
Public safety reform, including anti-violence initiatives, has been a key part of Preckwinkle’s policy agenda. By pushing for criminal justice and bond reform, Cook County has experienced a sustained reduction in the jail’s pre-trial detainee population, which has allowed for the demolition of a number of buildings on the jail campus. This has led to reduced costs that reflect the lower detainee population.
Through collaborative efforts between the public safety stakeholders, the jail population is now at its lowest since 1991. In 2019, the County will award more than $4 million in grants to 20 community-based organizations to support violence prevention, recidivism reduction and restorative justice. Since Preckwinkle took office, Cook County has distributed almost $18 million dollars in grants to community partners.
“One of the true joys of this job is hearing and seeing young men and women thrive after experiencing hardship. I think at times we forget the good that government can do and that our policies and programs that attack at the grassroots can be life altering.”
Preckwinkle noted that although the County has a diverse revenue base and experienced a positive trend in some tax types this year, expenditures continue to rise over time due to inflationary pressures, while natural growth in revenue struggles to keep pace or, in some cases, is declining. This makes structurally balancing the budget difficult, Preckwinkle said.
Additionally, the County’s property tax levy historically has not kept pace with inflation and has not been raised in over 20 years, causing a loss of $300 million in comparable value since the 1990s.
While continued revenue declines makes structurally balancing the budget each year difficult, Preckwinkle noted the decision to increase the sales tax in 2015 has positioned the County to address pension appropriations, growing legacy debt service costs and critical transportation infrastructure investment needs.
By dedicating this revenue from the sales tax, Cook County has provided supplemental pension payments of almost $1 billion dollars above the statutorily required contribution. Additionally, in the last three fiscal years, legacy debt service payments increased by $107 million dollars and transportation funding by $139 million dollars to address deferred maintenance. An additional $369 million dollars in increased contributions to these categories by Fiscal Year 2019 will bring the total close to $1.7 billion dollars.
“My vision for a better Cook County hasn’t come without challenges and difficulties. Each and every budget, we have faced these challenges head on and navigated these difficulties and we will continue to do so. Our residents expect it of us and they deserve it,” Preckwinkle said. “I am proud of what we have done and excited for what we are going to do.”
All FY2019 budget information has been posted to the Cook County website, allowing the public to review documents and engage with the President’s Office directly. There will also be public hearings scheduled on the FY2019 budget over the coming weeks. To view the budget website and the public hearing schedule, please visit to cookcountyil.gov/budget/