(CBS) — As Chicago struggles to curb violent crime, hundreds of Cook County law enforcement employees face layoffs.
County Board President Toni Preckwinkle says their jobs are in jeopardy because of the stalemate over the sweetened beverage tax, which has left a hole in the budget.
CBS 2’s Jim Williams talks with Preckwinkle.
She bristles at the suggestion law enforcement will bear the brunt of budget cuts if the soda tax never goes into effect.
“That’s ridiculous,” she says. “You have to understand that 87 percent of our budget is public health and public safety. So, if we were going to lay off people, it was going to be in our health and hospital system and our criminal justice system.”
Preckwinkle says the layoffs would be inevitable, in the event of a funding shortfall.
“To say it’s causing a lot of problems is the understatement of a lifetime,” says Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, whose office runs Cook County Jail.
He says job cuts will make it difficult to maintain order there.
“We have the right amount of people of correctional officers watching detainees. So, there’s a decrease in fights, there’s decreases in assaults,” Dart says.
Williams: “And if those people are cut?”
The sheriff responds: “I don’t know what we’re going to do. You could have cameras running, but you’d have no one watching the cameras and not a lot of help.”
The Illinois Retail Merchants Association, which is fighting in court to block the penny-an-ounce tax on sweetened beverages, insists it is not to blame.
“Frankly, this crisis was made by the county,” Trish Dawood says.
Preckwinkle says she’s cutting her own staff, if necessary – a “miserable” position to be in.
Dart does not criticize Toni Preckwinkle but says the raw reality of budget cuts will hurt his efforts to assist Chicago police and other law enforcement agencies as they try to get a handle on gun violence.
The next hearing in the legal fight over the soda tax is July 21. For now, it’s in limbo and not generating money for the county coffers.