CHICAGO – In a report released today, the Civic Federation expressed its support for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s proposed FY2023 budget of $8.75 billion because it reflects prudent financial management and puts the County in a strong position moving forward post-pandemic. The full analysis is available at civicfed.org/CookCountyFY2023.
As detailed in the report, the budget includes robust revenue performance and healthy reserves and avoids an increase in general taxes or fees, which is important given the high rate of inflation and other economic pressures already impacting residents and business owners. The budget proposal represents a spending increase of 7.8%, or $634.9 million, over FY2022’s adopted budget of $8.1 billion. It also funds the County’s eighth annual supplemental payment to its pension fund, for a total payment of $512.1 million in FY2023. These payments have helped significantly improve the pension funding level. The FY2023 budget also will close the smallest budget deficit to date under President Preckwinkle’s tenure.
“The County continues to manage its budget wisely, as illustrated by its sizable reserves as well as its ongoing commitment to supplemental pension fund contributions,” Civic Federation President Laurence Msall said. “Crucially, the County has also put into place a policy creating a ceiling for its reserves and identifies prudent uses for excess reserves.”
However, the Civic Federation has concerns regarding the impact of the “Transportation Lockbox” amendment to the state constitution on the budget. A recent Illinois Supreme Court ruling held that the amendment limits the application of tax revenue generated from transportation-related sources to transportation-related expenditures at the local as well as the state level. While the County was still able to balance its budget despite the need to divert hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue out of the General Fund, without those sources, other portions of the general operating budget will be more reliant on the performance of the sales tax going forward.
The Civic Federation is also concerned about the extraordinarily late release of tax year 2021 property tax bills in the County this year.
“We commend the County’s decision to create a bridge fund to offer a lower-cost borrowing option to local government entities most severely impacted by the delay in revenue collections,” Msall said. “However, it is imperative that the Cook County Board and Board President work together with all of the officials in the property tax system to address the problems at the root of the tax bills’ late release.”
The Civic Federation suggests that the County also reconsider the Federation’s longstanding recommendation to create a unified property tax administration office that would centralize the County’s administrative property tax functions, ease taxpayer confusion and help to address inefficiencies.
Additional Civic Federation recommendations include addressing the unincorporated area subsidy that will be impacted by the forthcoming repeal of the Wheel Tax, as well as recommendations specific to Cook County Health. The Federation recommends that the health system include the actual subsidy provided by Cook County to cover the cost of pension contributions and debt service in Cook County Health’s annually proposed budgets. The Federation also continues to call for justification of the expansion of inpatient services at Provident Hospital given projections showing higher outpatient demand, and urges better articulation of how these services correspond to the health system’s Strategic Plan and long-term vision for Provident Hospital.