100 Days in Cook County

March 16, 2011

Today marks the 100th day since Toni Preckwinkle took office as President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. During that time, the County has begun to implement a variety of reforms including many of the recommendations from the Civic Federation’s Cook County Modernization Report. The administration released a 100-day report card this morning, which highlights what the administration considers to be its key accomplishments.

The Civic Federation began its Cook County Modernization Project recognizing that there was a unique opportunity to promote reforms in Cook County. The initial report was released just prior to the election of the new Board President and as the Health and Hospitals System was beginning to implement a new strategic plan. The release also came at a time of considerable public debate regarding the appropriate County sales tax rate. The Civic Federation will be releasing a report next week that continues the project by evaluating the County’s success in implementing the Modernization Report’s 100-day recommendations and highlighting longer term recommendations.

The Civic Federation is encouraged by the following actions taken by the County under the leadership of Board President Preckwinkle that are consistent with Modernization Report recommendations:

  • An ordinance amendment was passed with the budget to fully repeal the 1.0% sales tax increase by 2013.
  • A $487 million budget gap was closed through a variety of measures including significant reductions to agency budgets.
  • The County has begun to make operational improvements including enhancements in the areas of purchasing and information technology.
  • The administration has made changes to the Judiciary Advisory Council (JAC) and Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to examine inefficiencies in the system as well as broader criminal justice issues.
  • The administration has made a commitment to implement budgetary best practices such as long-range financial planning and the utilization of performance measurement.

The Civic Federation is concerned by the following recent events:

  • Although the Health System’s budget reduction was based on its subsidy as the Civic Federation called for, other recent actions have restricted the Health System’s ability to run its own day-to-day operations. These actions include a budget amendment to reduce the Health System’s subsidy up to $39 million based on the estimated value of Medicaid enrollment applications to be processed by the State, imposition of furlough days on the System and County Board actions which adjusted Health System budget line items.
  • Despite significant budget reductions, the County is likely to face continuing budget shortfalls due to the cost drivers, use of non-recurring revenues, the decline in the pension funds and the sales tax repeal. In addition, the replacement of position reductions with furlough days only provides a temporary budget solution. The County will also face a challenge in implementing the FY2011 budget.
  • The County has not been supportive of the separation of the Cook County Forest Preserve District Board from the Cook County Board. The lack of timely action on the District’s FY2011 budget is further evidence that residents are ill-served by the current governance structure.

The Civic Federation urges the Board President and other elected officials to join together to take the following actions within the next four years:

  • Continue the process of streamlining County operations and improving the County’s budgetary practices. Other elected officials should support the Board President’s efforts to centralize key administrative functions. A budget amendment that would have realigned IT resources was not passed by the County Board.
  • Advocate for governance reforms such as creating a unified tax administration office and eliminating the subsidy for unincorporated areas.
  • Implement pension reforms.
  • Adopt reforms to the criminal justice system that address not only operational inefficiencies, but broader criminal justice policy issues.

It is the responsibility of all elected officials, not just the County Board President, to manage an efficient County and address budget shortfalls. Cooperation among several elected officials will become increasingly important as the County moves out of the transition period and begins to implement longer-term recommendations.

A full analysis of these issues and the Civic Federation’s evaluation of the County’s success in implementing 100-day recommendations will be included in our next Cook County report, which is scheduled to be released next week.