November 10, 2021
CHICAGO – In an analysis released today, the Civic Federation offered its support for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s proposed FY2022 budget of $8.04 billion. The full analysis is available at civicfed.org/CookCountyFY2022.
As detailed in the report, County officials have worked in recent years to build up reserves, maintain manageable long-term debt levels and conduct long-term forecasting. These steps have helped the County plan for budget gaps over time and have put the County in a good financial position to recover from the economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Steady fiscal stewardship has paid off for Cook County, both generally and amid the lingering economic effects of the COVID recession,” said Civic Federation President Laurence Msall. “The County’s receipt of significant federal American Rescue Plan Act funding creates a revenue backstop in case the economy doesn’t grow as projected. With this funding, the County will also be able to hire personnel and implement community initiatives aimed at pandemic recovery, which will help set up the County up for future financial stability.”
The Federation supports several aspects of this year’s budget, such as the County’s Independent Revenue Forecasting Commission including Cook County Health’s revenue projections within its forecasting scope and the health system’s improved revenue collections. Additionally, legislation passed this year will begin providing more publicly available information about charity care offered throughout the County.
Despite these improved fiscal and transparency measures, the Civic Federation remains concerned about Cook County Health’s reversal on its long-term goals for Provident Hospital. After a two year delay in construction of a new Provident, the Federation urges the Cook County Board to receive ongoing updates on utilization of emergency and inpatient services in a public forum.
Improvements in the County’s pension funding levels are being powered by supplemental pension contributions generated from a 2016 sales tax increase. Fiscal year 2022 will mark the seventh consecutive year of supplemental payments to Cook County employee pensions. However, the County has declined to share the sales tax proceeds with the Forest Preserve District, the governance for which Cook County Commissioners are also responsible. In an attempt to address its own pension crisis, the Forest Preserves will ask the voters for a property tax increase via referendum during the 2022 general election.
“While related, the County and the Forest Preserves are separate units of government with separate, sometimes competing missions,” said Msall. “The County Board of Commissioners insists on maintaining oversight for both governments and is directly involved in the District’s rising personnel and pension costs. As such, the County Board should be prepared to take swift action if the Forest Preserves’ upcoming property tax referendum does not pass,” said Msall.
Other Federation recommendations for the County include ensuring that public progress reports on the use of American Rescue Plan funds provide detailed information about operations, personnel and expenditures; obtaining statutory authority for the supplemental pension payments; and maintaining an archive of all livestreamed Cook County Health Board of Directors and Committee meetings.