By: Ted Dabrowski
Two weeks ago, the city of Chicago dug its fiscal hole deeper with an irresponsible budget and now it’s Cook County’s turn. Cook County Board Chairman Toni Preckwinkle has proposed spending $ 8 billion in 2022, which is 2.2 billion more than the $ 5.9 billion the county spent before COVID 2019. That’s a 37% increase.
Some have praised Preckwinkle’s proposal because there is no tax hike and not spending the $ 1 billion in federal stimulus all at once – more on that below – but the reality is that Cook County’s budget is failing for the same reason Chicago’s. is: The budget puts Cook County residents on a tax cliff after free federal money is gone.
The $ 8 billion spending plan has something for everyone, including a “guaranteed income” pilot program, $ 80 million for direct cash assistance as part of community spending of $ 233 million, and hundreds of millions more for health care and the expansion of Medicaid, programs that are sure to create longer-term dependency on the county government.
The guaranteed income pilot program is particularly astonishing. It is a form of what is called the Universal Basic Income – money for nothing. If there was a time to reintegrate government dependents into the workforce, it is now, with labor shortages everywhere and record numbers of job openings. Yet Cook County is doing the opposite.
The county also plans to increase its public sector workforce by 1,600, or 7%, which will certainly increase operating costs and the county’s already heavy retirement debt.
The table below shows Preckwinkle’s inflated federal proposal compared to pre-COVID 2019 spending. The Health Enterprise Fund grew by over $ 800 million, or 28 percent, while special purpose funds grew by over $ 750 million, or 118 percent, mostly due to largesse from the federal government .
Preckwinkle says federal money is being spent over the next few years in a way that leaves “no long-term funding obligation on the taxpayer,” but she did not specify where the money will come from when the windfall. federal government will be executed. outside.
Like the Chicago budget, spending decisions were guided by an “equity lens”. It is a misguided approach where the success of government is increasingly based on the growth of addiction programs like Medicaid and Universal Basic Income, and not on flourishing economic growth that takes residents out of public service and allows them to find jobs.
Cook County is an extreme national outlier
Lost in the new budget is the fact that Cook County is an extreme nationwide outlier when it comes to debt. A Moody’s report in December 2020 showed that Cook County had more liabilities as a percentage of revenue than any other large county in the country except Bexar County, Texas.
Moody’s analysis said the county had nearly $ 15 billion in long-term debt, or more than 500% of revenue. This amount of debt has left Cook County with an A2 rating from Moody’s. For a guide to what that means, every state in the country scores better than Cook County, with the exception of the lower states of New Jersey and Illinois.
The irony of the “equity” budgets proposed by Lightfoot and Preckwinkle is that as their governments continue to rack up more dangerous levels of debt, the more they hurt the very people they claim to want to help. Debt and pension costs absorb more of the budget, leaving less for public safety, health care and classrooms.
We cannot ignore that our analysis of the Cook County budget differs significantly from the Chicago Tribune editorial last week. The board of directors complimented Preckwinkle and his proposed budget. Below we discuss some of the differences.
Let’s start with the Tribune’s celebration of a budget without “new taxes, fines, fees or tax increases”. Chicagoans, it seems, have become so used to being hit by new taxes, fines and tax increases that the Tribune now feels it must adore government bureaucrats keeping the line on taxes. for one year. This praise is totally out of place, especially since the county is bathed in over $ 1 billion in federal funds.
Not to mention that the county also benefits from the recently imposed taxes on cannabis, gambling and online sales. No new taxes? Residents of Cook County would be hard-pressed to say they are not hit hard, especially minorities who are forced to flee Chicago and Cook County, as evidenced by the decline in the black population in recent decades. .
Remarkably, the first budget item highlighted in the Tribune editorial is Preckwinkle’s plan to “increase the staff” and increase the county roster by 7%. “Sound management of money is hard to come by in the Illinois government these days,” the Tribune said immediately after describing the increase in hiring. Did they really mean that?
For Wirepoints, staying the course on hiring and doing anything to avoid increasing pension costs is key to better outcomes for low-income Cook County residents.
The editorial board also said, “We love Preckwinkle’s plan for the billion dollar federal windfall. It will spread it over three years. We do not agree. His plan creates chronic dependence on federal largesse, postponing the urgent need to restructure and reform the county’s debts. Rather, Preckwinkle should do all she can to use the federal manna to reduce the county’s debts and restructure its onerous employment contracts.
The Tribune’s most misguided comment is this: “The lesson for other Illinois governments? Start playing the Cook County tune.
This is wrong in many ways. There is no government in Illinois that should be emulated, and Cook County would likely be one of the last.
The Tribune did not have to look far for much better examples. Indiana, Missouri, and Iowa are all AAA rated states with growing populations.
They don’t build tax cliffs there.
Learn more about Illinois’ irresponsible budgets: