CHICAGO – In a report released today, the Civic Federation expressed its support for the proposed Cook County FY2024 budget of $9.1 billion because it continues the Preckwinkle Administration’s good practices of long-term financial planning and prudent financial policy implementation, which have allowed the County to build up healthy general operating reserves and minimize budget deficits projected in future years. The full analysis is available at civicfed.org/CookCountyFY2024.
As detailed in the report, the County has strong revenue projections for FY2024 following its recovery from the pandemic. The budget includes a spending increase of $356.8 million, or 4.1%, from the FY2023 adopted budget of $8.8 billion. The expenditures increase reflects salary increases stemming from collective bargaining agreements. Meanwhile, 414 vacant personnel positions have been eliminated and there are no increases in taxes or fees in this budget.
“The Civic Federation is pleased to see the positive outcomes of the County’s continued long-term financial planning efforts,” said Sarah Wetmore, acting president of the Civic Federation. “As a result of this smart planning, the County will be able to set aside excess reserves for maintaining ARPA programs beyond the expiration of federal COVID relief dollars.”
An additional factor benefitting County finances is the landmark pension funding legislation passed earlier this year in Public Act 103-0529, which allows the County to make pension contributions reflecting the actuarial needs of the fund based on a best-practice funding schedule, while also allowing contributions to be funded using any revenue source. This legislation also resolves any risk of Tier 2 pensions potentially falling out of compliance with federal Safe Harbor requirements at a relatively low cost.
Still, the County faces some fiscal pressure. The shift of transportation tax revenues from the General Fund to a separate Transportation Fund, per a 2016 Illinois constitutional amendment also known as the Transportation Lockbox or Safe Roads Amendment, increases the General Fund’s reliance on sales tax and other economically sensitive revenues. Ongoing staffing shortages, particularly at Cook County Health and Hospitals System, are also resulting in higher contractual labor costs.
Among its recommendations to the County, the Civic Federation continues to urge the County to work toward creating a unified property tax administration office to help ease taxpayer confusion and improve efficiency. The Federation also renews its recommendation that the County work with residents and neighboring municipalities to re-start its initiatives toward incorporating its unincorporated areas.
The Federation also recommends that Cook County Health modify its annual proposed budget presentation to include the full subsidy provided by the County to the health system through pension contributions and debt service, as well as past year expenditures. The inclusion of this information would provide a clearer picture of the true cost of CCH operations.