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Preckwinkle Dismisses Commissioners’ Idea To Avoid Layoffs After Soda Tax Blocked

CHICAGO (CBS) — A bipartisan group of Cook County commissioners said they want to work together to cut the budget without mass layoffs while the county’s soda tax remains on hold, but the Preckwinkle administration said their plan is not realistic.

Commissioner Richard Boykin (D-Oak Park) said he’s alarmed by Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s announcement that 1,100 county employees will be laid off if a judge doesn’t allow the penny-per-ounce sweetened beverage tax to take effect by August.

Preckwinkle’s office has said the layoffs will be necessary without the $68 million in revenue expected for the rest of this year if the sugary drink tax remains blocked in court.

Boykin said he and two colleagues want to set up a working group to find alternative solutions.

“Look at every agency, look at every separate elected official, and find ways to cut redundancy, bureaucracy,” he said. “We can find the $68 million this year without necessarily having to lay off 1,100 people.”

Preckwinkle spokesman Frank Shuftan dismissed the working group proposal.

“We don’t view their proposals as being either productive or realistic. Developing a budget as large and complex as Cook County’s is a lengthy and laborious process that takes almost an entire calendar year from start to finish. We have an excellent financial team in place that provides all commissioners with quarterly updates on our progress, as well as monthly reports on revenues and expenditures,” Shuftan said in an email.

Commissioner Tim Schneider (R-Bartlett) said the Preckwinkle administration is needlessly sounding the alarm about the budget situation.

“I think it’s time that we stop trying to be Chicken Little and crying ‘The sky is falling!’ every minute that we have to make budget cuts in this administration,” he said.

Schneider, Boykin, and Commissioner Jeff Tobolski (D-McCook) voted against the soft drink tax; and they said they believe there is waste to be cut in the Cook County Health and Hospitals System.

“The actual cost of operating the hospital is close to $627 million a year. Where those numbers are, where they put them, how they’re grouped; that’s the hard thing you have to try and track down and find,” Tobolski said.

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