October 30, 2009
Last week Cook County released its FY2010 budget and will conclude its public hearing schedule nine business days after the budget’s release. At a minimum, the public should be afforded a review period of ten working days before public testimony is heard, not as a conclusion to the hearing schedule. The County’s accelerated public hearings schedule does not allow members of the public a reasonable amount of time to review the budget document and plan to attend one of the public hearings. The result is a significantly less transparent budget process.
Cook County’s FY2010 budget is a long and complex document that requires a fair amount of time to review and understand. The budget document is approximately 1,186 pages and consists of two volumes. The document’s sub-section that is geared towards members of the public, called the Citizen’s Summary, is 96 pages alone. Additionally, the budget proposes $3.6 billion in capital and operating appropriations. The length, complexity and size of this budget necessitate more time to be allocated between the release of the budget and the public hearings for the public to review and understand what the budget proposes so they can provide informed commentary.
The County’s public budget hearing schedule also poses logistical problems for county residents that could prevent some residents from voicing their opinion. Citizens require sufficient time to plan to attend public hearings and arrange transportation to a site where a public hearing will be held. Completing its public hearing schedule within nine days of release of the budget offers members of the public little flexibility to make arrangements to attend one of the hearings and may push some citizens out of the budget process.
Compared with other large local governments in the region, Cook County’s FY2010 budget schedule offers members of the public the least amount of time to review its budget and participate in a public hearing. The City of Chicago and Forest Preserve District of Cook County offer citizens as many as 29 and 30 business days, respectively, between the release of the budget and the last public hearing on the budget. The table below compares the budget release dates and dates of public hearings of large local governments in the Chicagoland area.
The Civic Federation believes that all governments owe their taxpayers an open, transparent budget process. Such a process should include sufficient time for members of the public to gain an understanding of the budget’s proposals and provide the public ample opportunity to participate in public budget hearings. The transparency problems created by the County’s accelerated public budget hearings schedule has made the County’s FY2010 budget process fall short of this practice. We urge the County to offer the public at least ten working days in between the release of its budget and the first public budget hearing for all future budget proposals.