December 30, 2011
In 2011 the Civic Federation blog provided weekly context, information and perspective on government budgets and fiscal issues across Illinois. Posts in 2011 focused on FY2012 local government budget analysis and the severe challenges facing local government pension funds, as well as a series of recommendations for improving the fiscal sustainability of the City of Chicago and Cook County. The following is a selection of the year’s posts.
FY2012 Local Government Budget Analysis
The Civic Federation blog provided insight and analysis on the budgeting process and proposals for Cook County, the City of Chicago and other local governments.
The Civic Federation supported Cook County’s FY2011 Executive Budget Recommendation as it reflected a significant effort to reduce expenditures. As discussed in a post on February 16, the proposed budget plan addressed a projected shortfall with broad agency cuts to most County departments. The Civic Federation blog later discussed Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s efforts to end Cook County’s cycle of delayed budget passages.
Cook County’s FY2011 budget included revenue and expenditure targets for the Cook County Health and Hospitals System. The Health System faced significant challenges achieving these targets, including a backlog of nearly $40 million in revenues related to Medicaid applications and unmet internal performance-improvement targets.
In advance of the release of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first budget recommendation for the City of Chicago, the Civic Federation blog focused on public safety expenditures, the largest portion of the City’s budget.
The Civic Federation supported the proposed FY2012 City of Chicago budget because it took effective action to reduce the City’s structural deficit through significant expenditure reductions and targeted revenue increases.
The Federation’s analysis of the Forest Preserve District’s FY2011 budget highlighted the inadequacies of the District’s governance structure. In blog posts about the analysis, the Civic Federation discussed the continued need for a separate board of commissioners for the District, first recommended in a 2008 report issued by the Federation and the Friends of the Forest Preserves. The report found the County’s dual board structure, whereby the Cook County Board of Commissioners also serve as Forest Preserve District Commissioners, creates an inherent conflict of interest and inhibits proper oversight of the Forest Preserves of Cook County. Three weeks into the 2011 fiscal year, the dual Board of Commissioners had not yet reviewed or debated the staff-proposed budget submitted in October 2010. Given these circumstances, the Federation took the extraordinary measure of releasing its analysis of the District’s budget outside of the traditional public review process.
The Civic Federation blog also provided budget analysis for DuPage County and the Chicago Transit Authority, as well as an opinion piece praising the recent fiscal management of City Colleges of Chicago.
DuPage County Sees Personnel Expenses Rise Despite Employee Reductions (10/26)|
CTA Balanced Budget Contingent on Labor Negotiations (11/9)
OpEd: City Colleges of Chicago earns high marks for fiscal prudence (8/3)
Throughout 2011, several posts explained recurring topics in government budgets including fund balance level as an indicator of financial health and the use of bond restructuring to fund operating expenses.
The Civic Federation blog closed the FY2012 budget season with a summary of the Federation’s local government budget analyses. The posts identified common fiscal problems among the governments analyzed and offered recommendations for addressing those problems.
Analysis of the Severe Challenges Facing Local Government Pension Funds
The Civic Federation blog continued its ongoing analysis and commentary on the pension crisis throughout Illinois with a series of posts on the sharp decline in the health of local government pension funds. The analysis warned that several funds will deplete their assets within the next 20 years. Major reforms to contributions and benefits are needed to keep the pension funds solvent.
City of Chicago Pension Health Still in Decline (10/18)
Health of Cook County Pension Fund Still in Decline (11/1)
Cook County Forest Preserve District Pension Fund Funding Gap Growing (11/22)
Chicago Park District Pension Fund Shows a Negative Trend (12/1)
Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Pension Fund in Decline (12/21)
Recommendations for Improving the Fiscal Sustainability of the City of Chicago and Cook County
The Civic Federation marked the first 100 days of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s administration with the Cook County Modernization 100-Day Accountability Report. Supplemental posts offered additional research and commentary on the recommendations in the report.
In September the Civic Federation published an update to The Cook County Property Tax Extension Process: A Primer on Levies, Tax Caps, Tax Bills and the Effects of Tax Increment Financing Districts. Blog posts discussed information in the updated primer.
Blog posts also provided supplemental information and insight on the Civic Federation’s Financial Challenges for the New Mayor and Recommendations for a Financially Sustainable City of Chicago reports. The reports identified the most significant financial challenges facing the City of Chicago and provided recommendations for ways to improve and stabilize the City’s finances in the short- and long-term.
Other Research and Recommendations
In addition to supplementing Civic Federation publications, the blog provided timely research and recommendations on a variety of issues impacting local governments. Posts in 2011 addressed the CTA’s Seniors Ride Free program, long-term financial planning for local governments, alternative service delivery and Personal Property Tax Replacement Tax revenues.
Governor Quinn Ends Seniors Ride Free (1/13)
Local Governments Need Transparent Long-Term Financial Planning (1/19)
Capital Planning in Major Cities (6/8)
Alternative Service Delivery Needs to Meet Stringent Criteria (6/15)
Volatile PPRT Revenue Should Not Be Relied on For Local Government Operating Budgets (8/31)
Please continue to follow the Civic Federation and IIFS blogs in 2012 for ongoing analysis of fiscal developments across Illinois. You can also subscribe to both blogs via RSS feeds compatible with Microsoft Outlook and most web browsers.