With Soda Tax Gone, County Board Looks To Close $200M Budget Gap

CHICAGO (CBS) — With budget hearings starting next week, and Cook County facing a $200 million budget gap after repealing the sweetened beverage tax, board members have begun weighing options for how to balance the budget.

Commissioner Jeff Tobolski (D-McCook) said however the county eliminates its budget shortfall, their constituents have made it clear it should not be with a tax increase.

“That ties our hands. Our only other option then is to go into a $5.2 billion budget, and cut less than 1 percent out,” he said.

Board President Toni Preckwinkle has said the soda tax repeal could result in 11 percent across-the-board cuts, and has notified other elected officials – including the sheriff, circuit court clerk, assessor, treasurer, and state’s attorney.

However, Commissioner Richard Boykin (D-Oak Park) said it’s not that simple.

“You don’t take a hatchet to the budget, but rather you take a scalpel to the budget. There are some agencies in county government that can go more than 11 percent. We ought to encourage them to do it. Those that can’t, they need to justify why they can’t,” he said.

Boykin said there are several ways the county can close the budget gap.

“Of course, if we eliminate some of these vacant and open positions that exist that are funded in county government, then of course we can find our savings,” he said.

Tobolski said board members will rely on county agency leaders to trim their budgets responsibly.

“We’re not going to be able to raise revenue, we’re going to have to cut, and we are going to hold those independently elected leaders and department heads responsible for the decisions they make,” he said.

Boykin and Tobolski both said they’re confident the cuts can be made without hurting health care or public safety. Both were among the 15-2 majority on the board that voted to repeal the penny-per-ounce sweetened beverage tax, effective Dec. 1, the start of the county’s next fiscal year.

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