In a report released today, the Civic Federation announced support for Cook County’s proposed FY2021 budget. The $6.92 billion billion proposal reflects the foresighted work Cook County has done over the past several years to establish a structurally balanced budget and build up its operating reserves. These efforts positioned the County well to withstand the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The full report is available at civicfed.org/CookCountyFY2021.
“The prudent efforts and sometimes-difficult decisions made by President Preckwinkle, her staff and the Board of Commissioners over the last several years to stabilize Cook County’s finances have prepared the County for a scenario exactly like the one facing us at this very moment,” said Civic Federation President Laurence Msall. “As a result, the County entered the fiscal and economic crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic in a better position than many other governments in Illinois and across the country.”
In its FY2021 budget, Cook County continues to practice good fiscal stewardship through supplemental pension payments, matching staffing levels to need, increasing transparency of its finances and modernizing government operations, among other steps. The County has been able to balance its budget this year through a combination of federal revenues, vacant-position eliminations, health system layoffs and reserves set aside in prior years.
However, there are still concerns about the possibility of future pandemic-related losses in economically sensitive revenues and the potential need to repay relief funds previously received by the health system due to revised interpretations of federal law. Uncertainty regarding additional federal coronavirus funding and the future of the Affordable Care Act could also negatively impact the ability to balance upcoming budgets. The County’s transparent scenario planning and the important work performed by the Revenue Forecasting Commission will be especially critical going forward.
“The Civic Federation recognizes that many, but not all, of the biggest challenges affecting Cook County’s finances are outside of the County’s own control,” said Msall. “In order to soften any potential blows from decisions made at the federal level and for the public’s benefit, County officials must continue to release their detailed scenario plans, work to save for the next rainy day and reconsider the current plans for Provident Hospital.”
The Federation remains concerned about Cook County Health’s plan to build a new $240.9 million Provident Hospital. The County has not made an adequate public case for the need for more hospital beds, and projections for growth in inpatient care seem optimistic. The Federation again urges the County to reconsider its plans and focus instead on providing outpatient services, an area where Provident’s ability to serve patients has been well demonstrated.
Additional recommendations include establishing a regional commission to study healthcare needs in the County, holding public meetings about the Sheriff’s Office’s operations, providing pension funding support for the Forest Preserve District and working with the new Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County to improve transparency, efficiency and accountability.