On Nov. 18 the Cook County Board of Commissioners passed the Fiscal Year 2016 Budget. For the second year, and only the second time as a Commissioner, I voted “no” on the Budget. I did this because the Budget showed a lack of reform, planning and coordination that now subjects our taxpayers to over $500 million in new taxes and the highest sales tax and hotel tax in the nation. I voted “no” on these taxes.
As I reported to you earlier this year, the Sales Tax increase was done outside of our adopted budget process. Because we did not follow our normal budget process, there was no plan to ensure that the funds would be properly spent and no justification for the need to layer on additional taxes onto already overtaxed Cook County residents. When this budget was introduced, there was a request for $30 million more in taxes and fees in addition to the already approved $474 million a year sales tax increase.
During the last week, as the Amusement Tax increase of $21 million failed to get enough support for passage, a new $31 million Hotel Tax was proposed. There was no planning or coordination to determine what this Hotel Tax would mean to the region’s economy and what effect it would have on jobs. The Hotel Tax was combined with $4.9 million in new court filing fees to present a “reasonable and modest” tax increase. These taxes and fees will have great detrimental effect on our citizens and the regional economy and are not “reasonable and modest.”
A year ago, I pointed out our need to plan for criminal justice issues to reduce the gun threat and reduce overall violence in our county. During the last year the Chief Judge, State’s Attorney, Public Defender and Sheriff have been required to report on their efforts to reduce crime through pretrial service programs and drug diversion programs. Their efforts have been working, but the response to success has been to restrict programs that work in this budget. The Chief Judge’s budget and that of the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) were restricted and the State’s Attorney’s very successful Drug Diversion was eliminated. The County Board restored successful programs in those budgets by adopting amendments that I sponsored. In addition, I was able to restore the Chief Judge’s successful Mortgage Mediation Program which has helped thousands of people keep their homes during the foreclosure crisis.
A year ago I was blocked when I tried to get additional funding for our pension system. I stated that we would need $160 million in additional payments this year. This budget makes a $270 million payment to the pension fund which helps avoid an immediate crisis, but efforts to ensure future additional payment were defeated. The pension issue must have a long-term solution.
I was unable to restore full funding to the Restorative Justice Program, Access to Care Health Plan, and the Bridge Behavioral Health Aftercare for children being discharged from the JTDC. These programs improve the quality of life in our County and I will continue to fight for them.
This budget also puts the Cook County Health and Hospital System in jeopardy because it cuts $42 million from the County’s subsidy to the System. While the System is working better than ever and we are serving more insured patients, this is not the time to lessen our support. If the System is to stand on its own in the future, we must support it adequately now.
Finally, this budget delays for 6 months a 2% pay raise for all non-union County workers. All union workers will get the 2% raise immediately. This is not right. All County workers should be treated the same. For all these reasons I voted “no” on the Budget.