Preckwinkle Outlines Plan To Make Up For Loss Of Soda Tax Revenue

CHICAGO (CBS) — With Cook County’s soda tax about to be a thing of the past, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has laid out her plan for dealing with the loss of revenue.

When commissioners voted to repeal the much-maligned sweetened beverage tax, they knew they would have to make up for $200 million in lost revenue.

According to spokesman Frank Shuftan, Preckwinkle has proposed a mix of layoffs; eliminating vacant positions; holding the line on salary increases; imposing unpaid furlough days; delaying the purchase of some equipment; stepping up enforcement of parking, cigarette, and alcohol taxes; reduced spending on travel, postage, office supplies, and printing; and other cost-saving maneuvers.

The layoffs would have the biggest impact on Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s office and Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ office. The sheriff’s office would face 244 layoffs and the judge’s office would face 222 – largely from the ranks of midlevel managers and other noncritical staffers.
The layoffs are expected to save the county $51 million.

However, Dart and Evans have not signed off on the layoffs. Evans told the Tribune he’d prefer to impose 20 unpaid furlough days.

Under Preckwinkle’s plan, the county would save another $50 million by cutting nearly 750 vacant positions. Preckwinkle already had proposed cutting another 250 vacancies before the soda tax was repealed.

The largest savings — $96 million – would come from freezing salaries; delaying the purchases of equipment; requiring unpaid furlough days for employees at the Circuit Court Clerk’s office; reducing spending on travel, postage, office supplies, and printing; cutting funding for a justice program and a drug school program for non-violent offenders; and increased enforcement of parking, cigarette, and alcohol taxes.

The county’s new fiscal year starts Dec. 1, and the sweetened beverage tax repeal begins the same day.

Preckwinkle will need nine votes to approve her plan to cut the budget. She’s feeling a little more pressure now that former Chicago Ald. Bob Fioretti has announced he will run against her in next year’s election.

Commissioners also could offer amendments to Preckwinkle’s plan. The board has set a Nov. 21 deadline to approve a spending plan for 2018.

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