Cook County's Budget: Long-Term Imbalance Leads to New Pain for Vulnerable Residents
November 14, 2017
On October 11, 2017, the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted to repeal a penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages. The FY2018 budget presented by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle had relied on the sweetened beverage tax to cover just over $200 million of the county's projected expenditures on services.
However, Cook County's budget shortfall is not merely a product of the short-term decision to repeal the sweetened beverage tax without revenue to replace it. The county has an ongoing structural deficit driven by the fact that 43 percent of the county's revenues come from sources that are growing slower than inflation. Moreover, the county has chosen not to increase its base property tax levy since 1996—even to adjust it for inflation. As a result, the real value of Cook County's base property tax levy has declined by 36 percent over the last 20 years.
Now that the tax has been repealed, county officials are considering closing the FY2018 shortfall by cutting spending on core services. Some of the proposed cuts would:
- Significantly increase caseloads for probation officers. Caseloads are currently 108 probationers per officer, or 21 percent above standards recommended by the Administrative Office of the Illinois Court.
- Suspend the Mortgage Forecloseure Mediation Program, which assists low-income homeowners through the foreclosure process.
- Close a branch courthouse, forcing residents to travel farther to attend hearings.
These service cuts would disproportionately affect Cook County residents who are low income and residents of color.
Cook County must address the long-term unsustainability of its revenue system if it is to avoid enacting further harsh cuts to core services.
You can read the full report on the Budget Blog or download a PDF by clicking below.