Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today presented a $5.36 billion Executive Budget Recommendation for Fiscal Year 2018 aimed at making the County healthier, safer and more efficient. The proposed budget avoids drastic cuts in critical services while confronting the County’s fiscal challenges.
President Preckwinkle’s commitment to producing a responsible, balanced budget each year is unwavering despite a significant number of external constraints, such as: sustained attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, ongoing Sweetened Beverage Tax litigation and repeal efforts, delayed state payments and millions of dollars in decreased state tax revenue.
The President’s budget closes a $115.3 million shortfall, the lowest since she took office in 2010. With this budget, she has now closed $1.85 billion in gaps beginning with her first budget. In that same time period, Cook County’s full-time workforce has shrunk by more than 10 percent and the County’s indebtedness has been reduced by 10.3 percent.
“Despite a host of challenges this year, we are proud to put forward a balanced budget that provides vital services and programs for our residents while also being fiscally responsible,” President Preckwinkle said. “Over the past seven years, we have approved balanced budgets and made significant progress toward securing the County’s financial future. Our continued stable bond ratings from each of the ratings agencies is a testament to our hard work and willingness to make the tough choices necessary on behalf of the people of Cook County.”
The preliminary budget gap is being closed with $35.5 million in expenditure reductions, including eliminating vacant positions, savings in health benefits, beginning the right-sizing of the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center and planned consolidation of two warehouses into one.
Of particular note this fiscal year is the anticipated growth of CountyCare, Cook County Health and Hospitals System’s (CCHHS) Medicaid managed care program. This growth is accounted for in the increased FY2018 operating budget total. CountyCare’s membership could grow from 140,000 to 225,000 patients through strategic acquisitions and system realignment required by Medicaid changes made by the State of Illinois.
President Preckwinkle noted her $4 billion operating budget recommendation includes revenue previously approved by the Board, including Sweetened Beverage Tax revenue agreed to last year and projected to bring in $200.6 million in FY2018.
President Preckwinkle highlighted the potential impacts of repealing this revenue stream by reviewing which programs and services could be jeopardized, including:
- A $27 million reduction to CCHHS that could result in the closure of community health centers, a reduction of services or closure of Provident Hospital and/or downgrading the Level One Trauma Center at Stroger Hospital;
- The indefinite delay of lifestyle centers at Provident and in the Austin community, projects that were slated to receive $1 million in sweetened beverage tax funding;
- A reduction in the planned $2 million expansion from FY2017 to the Justice Advisory Council, which provides grants to non-profits engaged in anti-violence and anti-recidivism work, and which could spill over into the County’s workforce development training programs;
- Potential 11 percent, across-the-board cuts that could lead to a $22 million reduction in funding to the State’s Attorney and Public Defender’s Office budgets. Such cuts could impact the County’s ability to fulfill its Constitutional duty of providing counsel to those who can’t afford it, as well as create costly delays in the justice system that keep non-violent offenders detained longer.
“Taking away this revenue could result in a reversal in the government efficiencies we have championed over the past seven years,” President Preckwinkle said. “We all should proud of the progress we are making in turning the County into a safer, healthier and more efficient place to live and work.”
Since taking office, President Preckwinkle has reduced the direct operating taxpayer allocation to the hospital by $370 million. In FY2018, the CCHHS operating tax allocations will be down 77% since 2010. This follows continued progress by CCHHS in reinventing itself as a healthcare system of choice, which now serves more insured than uninsured patients.
Since 2013, under President Preckwinkle’s leadership and in concert with other public safety stakeholders, detainees accused of non-violent crimes are increasingly being offered I-bonds or electronic monitoring as an alternative to detention; as a result, the average daily population in the jail has declined from about 10,000 to below 7,500 today. Additionally, and with the lower population, the County is on track to demolish three divisions of the jail by 2018, which is projected to save $188 million in needed capital expenditures.
Preckwinkle noted that while she is presenting a balanced budget that provides essential services to County residents, a number of factors could have a detrimental impact on the FY18 budget. Any state or County action to repeal the Sweetened Beverage Tax could reduce revenue by more than $200 million annually.
“In front of us are two diverging paths. One, the path of my executive budget recommendation, includes the revenue we authorized last year,” Preckwinkle said. “The other, an alternative path, without $200 million in projected revenue, takes us in a vastly different direction. And if we take the first step on this second path, I assure you that each and every successive step will be tougher.”
All budget information has been posted to the Cook County budget website, allowing the public to review documents and engage with the President’s Office directly. There also will be public hearings scheduled on the 2018 budget over the coming weeks. To view the budget website, please go to cookcountyil.gov/budget/.