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Cook County Board President Preckwinkle announces 2014 budget with no new taxes

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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced the FY 2014 $3.2 billion dollar budget recommendations yesterday that does not include new taxes, fines or fees. According to a release from President Preckwinkle's office, the new budget makes critical investments in the County’s public health and safety systems.

The budget, according to the office, reduces unnecessary costs. "This budget reflects my administration’s work over the past three years and is a testament to the reforms we have put in place to institutionalize fiscal responsibility in County government," President Preckwinkle said. "We are not raising taxes and we are prioritizing spending. We have solved for more than $1.2 billion in deficits since I took office while improving services."

In an initial preliminary budget deficit of $152 million, which was balanced by an in increase in anticipated Cook County Health and Hospitals System payments of $86.5 million and $10.5 million in savings. The County also reduced additional expenses by $24.2 million, with an anticipated increase in revenues estimated at $16.5 million, as a result of an improving economy and increased tax enforcement.

The County also saves $14.4 million in health and pharmacy costs by improving the management of employee benefits and more closely monitoring specialty drugs and conditions.

The proposed budget experiences savings because of the continued success of CountyCare, a Medicaid expansion program under the Affordable Care Act which provides health care coverage for tens of thousands of uninsured and underinsured patients in Cook County.

The County anticipates $278 million in net revenue from CountyCare in the FY 2014 budget. As of this week, the County has initiated more than 110,000 applications and sent them to the State for approval. It is on track to exceed the President’s and CCHHS CEO Dr. Ram Raju’s goal of 115,000 applications by the end of 2013. This will allow CCHHS to improve services and become more self-sufficient.

Public safety funding will increase by $27.6 million from the prior year. It reflects a change in state law that would shift 17-year-olds charged with felonies from the adult court system to the juvenile system.

The public safety budget also is increasing $3.8 million due to mandated federal hiring at the Cook County Jail.

In FY 2014, the Medical Examiner will add more than 20 employees. This needed staff will allow the office to function at optimum efficiency and bolster its efforts to achieve national accreditation. The Bureau of Technology is also investing $1.5 million to expand and improve the County’s aging broadband networks. There also will be investments in the Office of the Independent Inspector General’s (OIIG) case management system to enhance its ability to root out and reduce misconduct in County government.

"These hearings will give residents an opportunity to provide meaningful input and voice their concerns before a final vote on the budget," President Preckwinkle said. "I urge everyone involved in this process – commissioners, separately elected officials, our unions, our civic groups, and residents – to bring us ideas, and help us pass a responsible budget without new taxes, fines or fees."

Laurence Msall, president of the nonpartisan Civic Federation budget watchdog group, like what he sees. Msall told the Chicago Tribune that while he has yet to comb through the budget but had praise for what he's learned so far. "This is a good-news budget on the surface for Cook County taxpayers, for the citizens of Cook County," Msall said. "It shows a great deal of restraint on the part of the county, not going to tax increases."

Send John Presta an email and your story ideas or suggestions, johnpresta@att.net.

John is the author of an award-winning book, the 2010 Winner of the USA National Best Book award for African American studies, published by The Elevator Group, Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots. Also available an eBook on Amazon. John is also a member of the Society of Midland Authors and is a book reviewer of political books for the New York Journal of Books. John has volunteered for many political campaigns.

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