October 26, 2018
(CHICAGO) In a report released today, the Civic Federation announced support for Cook County’s proposed FY2019 budget. The $5.9 billion budget proposal is structurally balanced without raising new taxes and continues the practice of making supplemental pension payments. The full report is available here.
“Overall, this budget is a prudent plan for the coming year—but it fails to set its sights much further,” said Civic Federation President Laurence Msall. “While there are many positive aspects of this budget, including holding the line on property taxes and maintaining a strong budgetary reserve, the County will soon face the difficult task of identifying spending cuts or new revenue to tackle the financial challenges looming on the horizon.”
The Federation is encouraged by the County’s strong level of fund balance reserves, its commitment to performance-based budgeting and emphasis on strategic planning efforts. The Federation further applauds the County’s continued dedication to making supplemental pension payments to the Cook County pension fund. However, this practice is neither compulsory nor formally approved under State statute. The Federation urges the County to seek State statutory authority for these payments moving forward.
The FY2019 proposed budget represents an increase of more than 13 percent over the budget adopted in FY2018. The majority of this increase is related to growth in projected costs associated with the CountyCare Medicaid managed program, which has seen a steep increase in membership and is offset by associated federal and State Medicaid reimbursements. The Federation is encouraged by the success of CountyCare in stabilizing the Health System’s finances and reducing its reliance on the Cook County tax base. However, the Federation sees financial risks as the Health System transforms itself into an insurer as well as a healthcare provider.
Additionally, the Civic Federation urges more transparency—both for the public and for Cook County Commissioners—regarding the long-term costs of collective bargaining agreements that have driven significant spending increases at a time when the County faces stagnating or declining revenue sources.
The report highlights other areas in which the County is a leader in transparency, while recommending additional improvements and expansion of the newly created Independent Revenue Forecasting Commission to include expenditure forecasting. Among a number of other recommendations, the Federation urges the County to move forward with plans to relocate the Oak Forest Health Center, develop a clearer vision for Provident Hospital and pursue cost savings that reflect the recent changes to Cook County’s jail and court system.
“We are seeing some creative restructuring from the County, especially in how the jail and courts are organized,” said Msall. “However, we are not yet seeing structural changes translate into significant budgetary savings, which will become increasingly important as the County finds itself at a financial crossroads.”