FY2017 Budget Address: Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board President
Delivered Tuesday, October 13, 2016 to the Cook County Board of Commissioners with the President's Executive Budget Recommendation.
Last year, I stood before you and talked about our budget challenges. That challenge was two-fold: to address our immediate needs and priorities and, at the same time, plan for our future. With this sense of responsibility we made the tough choice – a decision that was particularly difficult for me – to increase the sales tax in order to ensure the long-term financial viability of Cook County government and the services we provide. As I committed last year, that revenue is dedicated entirely to addressing the out-sized legacy debt we inherited and the immense challenges at the Pension fund, as well as reversing the long-standing diversion of resources away from infrastructure.
It is because of this very commitment that, in a climate of financial turmoil on the state level, Cook County’s financial outlook has improved, and in fact all three bond rating agencies upgraded our bond rating outlook to stable, firmly in investment grade, earlier this year.
The budget I present today solves for our $174 million deficit. It supports our core services, reinforces our policies, and, again, plans for our future.
Now to most of us, $174 million is a pretty big number. It is more money than most of us can really get our arms around. But, Cook County, as the largest county in Illinois and the second largest county in the country, has a $4.4 billion overall budget. In that context, it can be difficult to understand why $174 million represents such a challenge.
What makes this year challenging is not just the size of our deficit, but the reasons for it. A seemingly endless stalemate at the State-level not only impacts our daily operations, but also our ability to conduct our own financial planning. We have to address inherited expenses, namely increasing debt service costs and the historic neglect that has led to antiquated and outdated information systems throughout the County. And we have to do this while many of our revenue sources are declining.
As Cook County Board President, it’s my obligation to present a balanced budget. That budget, however, is largely focused not on my office but on the support and maintenance of our public health and public safety system. In fact, 87% of our budget is dedicated to public health and public safety. My own office represents only 7% of the over 23,000 positions that make up Cook County government. I say this because I want to make it clear – I’m not here advocating on behalf of myself, or even my team. I’m carrying out my responsibility as President to support County-wide services and advanced shared priorities.
To do that, there were two possible solutions, both difficult. One, I could put forth a proposal that would significantly impair our criminal justice system over the next three years and undermine the progress we are making in public health. It would mean over 1,000 fewer positions in our criminal justice system, including prosecutors, public defenders, sheriff’s deputies and critical support staff, programs and services. Instead of focusing on becoming more fair and effective, we would be focusing just on getting by. Instead, my budget recommendation, reinforces our commitment to criminal justice reform, and makes an unprecedented investment in public safety. It builds on our pledge to strengthen and support our neighborhoods through community-based health care, economic development and infrastructure.
In order to do this, I am again asking you to make the difficult but necessary choice: to support a moderate tax on sweetened beverages. This is not, I repeat not, a grocery tax. We are targeting beverages with high quantities of sugar and artificial sweetener, such as carbonated soft drinks, sports drinks, and energy drinks. At 1 cent per fluid ounce, that means a can of soda that currently costs 99 cents would now cost $1.11. A 20 oz bottle of soda will go from $2.19 to $2.39. This will not impact natural or nutritional beverages – such as milk or milk-based products, natural fruit juices, baby formula or weight reduction or therapeutic meal replacements.
My motivation is to support our public health and safety systems. However we should not overlook the positive health impacts it promotes. Earlier this week, the World Health Organization released a report that said taxing sweetened beverages can lower obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay. Our own health system, which provides a medical home for many residents of the communities most at risk for these chronic illnesses, sees it firsthand. In the past 12 months, CCHHS has spent more than $200M treating diabetes, obesity and other conditions that could be improved by reduced sugar intake. Berkeley, California which passed a similar measure last year, has already seen soda consumption decrease by 20% in some neighborhoods.
Raising revenue is never my first choice. However, this is an option that reflects our commitment to public health, by both supporting and expanding the services we provide as well as helping to encourage healthier habits. Going into effect July 1st, it would raise $74 million this year to support our core mission.
I do want to be clear that I did not come to this decision lightly. The proposal put before you represents months of effort – working with business and labor leaders, our criminal justice stakeholders, our public health team and my fellow elected officials.
I understand that it means shared sacrifice – both from County officials and employees, who will again be asked to do more with less – and from residents, who are being asked to help support the work we do.
I’ve always said that responsible budgeting doesn’t look just at the challenges immediately before us – but plans for the future. That was our objective for this year’s budget. We assessed the challenges and defined the priorities, and the budget introduced today lays the foundation for the next three years. We are including in this recommendation is our commitment that there will be no increase in tax rates for the next three fiscal years.
This budget isn’t just about numbers or line items – it’s about the people and communities we serve, primarily within the areas of public safety, public health and now increasingly in economic development.
I want to focus on public safety, because it is the majority of our budget and the core of our mission.
Every single day we are confronted with the news that yet another family has lost a loved one – sons and daughters; mothers and fathers. There are too many weekends that are summed up by a tally of those shot and killed I know we all agree these losses are unacceptable. At the same time the rising tide of heroin and opioid deaths is battering our communities as well, including many less affected by violence. Both public health and public safety are challenged as never before. Gun deaths and fatal overdoses are the bold face type that can illustrate the deeper, more widespread losses due to addiction, the crime addiction drives, the violence symptomatic of unresolved trauma, and a lack of real jobs and opportunities. Ultimately, all of these issues and the underlying causes are a threat to our economic and our social health. Throughout much of the region, crime and violence remain at historic lows, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics. But there are areas here in Cook County, as in the rest of the country, where violence and crime are in fact increasing. These are communities, which are both racially and economically segregated, where young men of color, traumatized by violence and poverty, lack opportunities for education and employment. These are the communities where violence flourishes. These are struggling neighborhoods which people are fleeing but casualties are still increasing. Victims and perpetrators are one and the same, and innocent bystanders are caught in the cross-fire.
Victims and perpetrators can be neighbors, and family members can end up in prison. Here, the vicious cycle of violence continues uninterrupted. These communities aren’t just found within Chicago. In fact, the crime rates in some of our western and southern suburban areas are just as high or higher than those of the most dangerous police districts in Chicago. And for those of you who don’t call these communities home, remember that safety, much like health, doesn’t abide by any boundary. It is as impossible to have a violent community and a safe county just as it is to have a sick individual and a healthy family. I’ve made no secret that, in order for our criminal justice system to be effective, it must be reformed – both in terms of how it treats our most vulnerable residents and how we allocate and spend our tax dollars. This has centered on the need to reduce the over-reliance on pre-trial detention. Coming into office, our jail averaged over 10,000 detainees a day. Unnecessary detention - locking up thousands of people who could be released safely in the community to await their trial - costs too much money and damages too many lives. Every year, Cook County spends $330 million to maintain jail operations.
The more troubling cost is that when someone is detained who poses no flight risk or danger to themselves or others, it only increases the likelihood that they go deeper into the criminal justice system. The clearest example of the detrimental impact of our over reliance on detention is reflected in the fact that over fifty percent of the people exiting our jail will return within three years. There is clearly a better way to use our resources and to serve our residents.
Everyone in this room has probably heard me talk about this. Criminal justice reform is one of my top priorities – and will remain so.
As Cook County Board President, I’m not in the court rooms or the tiers of the jail. I don’t charge or defend; I don’t pronounce judgment. My role has been, and remains, to advocate and raise awareness, to help shape sound policy decisions and to facilitate the collaboration necessary for meaningful criminal justice reform. A critical part of this is supporting and partnering with our criminal justice stakeholders and I thank for their hard work each and every day.
With the support and assistance of the Illinois Supreme Court, we have been able to focus on the processes and procedures of our Central Bond Court. Using an assessment tool identified by Chief Judge Evans that provides more complete, current and relevant information to all parties involved regarding the risk and community ties of individuals going through bond court, we have been able to reduce the confined population at the jail by 25% over the last three years.
Because of this steady decline, we are working with Sheriff Dart to reduce the size of the jail campus by a total of approximately 568,000 sq. ft. Demolition will begin next month, starting with Division 3, the 30 year old building for minimum and medium security detainees. By tearing down that building alone, we are saving over $150,000 in annual utility costs and avoiding almost $24 million in necessary capital improvement costs. Next year, we will demolish two other divisions which will reduce our campus foot print by another 487,000 feet, save more than $900,000 in annual operation costs and avoid over $148 million in required capital improvement costs. I want to acknowledge Sheriff Dart and his Office in this effort. It may sound straight forward enough – fewer detainees, means fewer buildings and the need for less staff. But there is a great deal of planning required – from decommissioning buildings, rearranging operations, moving equipment, and retraining staff – and it would be impossible without his leadership. But, as our work is far from over, we are commissioning a master plan to analyze and evaluate the remaining structures of the jail campus and make recommendations for future demolition, repurposing or renovation.
We will continue to work to reduce pretrial detention and address the racial disparities that still plague our system, despite the reduction in our jail population. We will continue to improve the bond court process, including implementing a long-overdue court date reminder program. Because, surely, if we can remind someone of a dental appointment, we can do the same for an upcoming court date. While we try to make our criminal justice system more fair and effective, we cannot overlook what brings people into our criminal justice system in the first place. We have to complement our criminal justice system improvements with effective community intervention and support. To date, we have awarded nearly $11.5 million in grants focused on addressing violence, reducing recidivism and restoring justice. These grants are the best tool we have to invest in community-based interventions that serve those at risk or involved in the criminal justice system. That is why, today, I’m calling for our grant program to be doubled to $6 million a year in order to increase our support for community anti-violence efforts. In addition to investing in our existing grant categories of Violence Prevention, Anti-Recidivism and Restorative Justice, additional resources mean we can encourage organizations to work together to develop comprehensive, community-wide strategies and initiatives for some of our most at risk communities.
We must also go after external grants. Just last week, we were awarded a $1 million Federal grant – one of only six awarded nationally - to address youth violence in the targeted South Suburban communities of Harvey, Ford Heights and Robbins. We are partnering with the Strengthening Chicago’s Youth program through the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, the Ford Heights Community Service Organization and a host of other stakeholders in these communities, to provide coordinated prevention and intervention services, including trauma-informed care to children, teenagers and young adults, ages 10 to 24, who have been affected by the terrible violence in our communities. We cannot alter the past but we can make sure these young people face the future with new resiliency. This is just one of the ways we are working to invest in health to address the impact of violence.
We have to learn what practices prove most effective and how we can be better partners. That is why we are building relationships with local universities, including the Center for Criminal Justice Research, Policy and Practice at Loyola, under the leadership of Dr. David Olson, Lisa Jacobs, and Diane Geraghty. I have charged our Justice Advisory Council with ensuring that we set the standard for all county stakeholders by providing our academic partners with full access to the data available to us. We want more than their cooperation, we want their honest input – and will take their feedback to heart.
We are working to increase transparency and access to this information for all those involved and invested in criminal justice reform. We are building the infrastructure to share information with all criminal justice stakeholders so that every decision-maker is informed and we avoid waste, duplication and inefficiency. Additionally, every criminal justice stakeholder is being asked to do more with less and strategically lower their position counts. This year, we will be reducing over 250 positions across the criminal justice system totaling more than $9.7 million in salary savings alone.
Our primary mission of public safety and public health must work in conjunction. For too long, too many health issues were addressed through criminal justice channels. But jails are not designed to be treatment centers. We cannot lock up everyone who needs treatment. It is far too costly – both for taxpayers and for the individuals who cycle in and out of our system without getting the necessary help to address their underlying health issues. I applaud the Cook County Health and Hospitals System for their commitment to our core mission to serve the most vulnerable, and the critical role they must play in ensuring both the health and safety of our communities. In this budget, we see an increased commitment to preventative, community-based care, especially serving those most vulnerable. We now serve as a major provider of substance abuse and mental health treatment in the region. Local, state and federal cuts for social service agencies have been felt in our jail and emergency rooms. This has only strengthened our resolve. Dr. Shannon and his team are implementing an ambitious behavioral health plan that includes expanding substance abuse treatment, integrating behavioral health into primary care and working to better link our justice-involved population to health care both during detention and post-release.
With valuable assistance from the Chicago Police Department, we have launched our first Community Triage Center in Roseland. Modeled after successful programs in other cities, individuals with behavioral health conditions – whether substance abuse, mental health or both – can to walk into the Community Triage Center, at any time, and get stabilized and connected to community-based services. We expect the CTC to further reduce the jail population, save financial resources and most importantly provide these individuals with better outcomes. It also provides the Chicago Police Department with an alternative to arrest. Just this week, the Police Department issued an order to allow officers to bring appropriate individuals to the CTC rather than book them and send them to the County Jail.
The Chicago Police are facing a lot of criticism these days but they have been great partners on this project. They have supported the Cook County Health and Hospitals staff as they work to provide alternatives to a purely criminal justice approach to people teetering on the edge of crisis, detention and even death. Our Cook County Health and Hospitals System stands at a turning point. We have an historically high level of insured patients, due in large part to the successful implementation of CountyCare, our Medicaid expansion program. Now, we are building a modern, integrated health system that is a provider of choice, not of last resort, for all our residents. With more insured patients, we are better able to provide quality care to those who remain uninsured. While our system is well known and respected for our inpatient care, training and research, at the core of our new strategic plan is a commitment to preventive, community-based primary and specialty care.
We are working to renovate, rebuild or relocate community health centers in the coming years, to provide our patients with the same modern facilities as our competitors. This starts with the redevelopment of our west side health campus, which will improve the delivery of care for our patients and consolidate services currently spread across three buildings. I look forward to seeing all of you at the groundbreaking next month. At the same time, we need to make sure our staffing aligns with our strategic plan. This budget reflects the System’s plan to add 129 net new positions. This will further expand service quality and patient safety efforts, increase our behavioral health services as well as build new expertise in key areas, such as case management and managed care, as well as increase additional capacity in others, such as surgical and critical care.
We know that health care doesn’t just happen within the walls of a Doctor’s office. We are working to expand the definition of wellness through new programming. We are partnering with the Greater Chicago Food Depository on a county-wide Food Access Task Force. Already, we have been able to implement food access screening at four of our clinics. Since the program started earlier this year, we have been able to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to over 1,500 households representing over 5,100 individuals. By the end of next year, we expect to have integrated both the food insecurity assessment tool, and fresh food trucks visits, to all of our community health centers.
At the same time, our Department of Public Health leads the charge on disease awareness, education and prevention. Under the leadership of Dr. Terry Mason, we have partnered with the Housing Authority of Cook County to support the implementation of smoke-free buildings for residents in its 22 public housing properties. As a result, 3,500 residents can breathe easier at home.
This year, I am calling for additional resources to be dedicated to awareness and screening for chronic illness, particularly diabetes, in the communities most at risk. To that end, we will be using some of the revenue generated from the tax on sweetened beverages to planning for two lifestyle centers, one in the Austin community and one at Provident Hospital, fully staffed with dieticians, nurses, medical social workers and exercise professionals. Access to exercise, health education and other social support services will be critical to our ability to assist individuals in preventing or managing diabetes or heart disease.
Our budget must be a reflection of our mission. That is true of each of the budget recommendation I’ve have presented; it is especially true this year. But that is only possible if we build it on a foundation of fiscal responsibility. There is no quick fix. This revenue proposal is necessary – but it accounts for less than half – 43% actually - of the solutions in the recommendation before you. More than half our solution is derived from our continued determination to drive down costs and increase efficiency across the County. After six years and $430 million in expenditure reductions, we are cutting another $78.5 million this year, including $31.9 million in personnel cuts and an additional 1% reduction in our workforce. All offices, including my own, are being asked to do more with less. With that in mind, we aren’t just reducing the workforce; we are reducing the County’s real estate foot print. This budget includes the consolidation of our two general warehouses into one, which will result in an additional $1.5 million in savings. We will also see reductions as part of the development of our health campus and the demolition of buildings within our jail campus. This is part of our larger commitment to reduce our real estate footprint by 1 million square feet by 2018. Our goal is to become more effective, but also more efficient at what we do. While jury trials are a cornerstone of our criminal justice system, we found that we can be more efficient in how we utilize our citizens for jury duty. So, working with the Chief Judge, we are reducing the number we call by 33%, or roughly 300,000 individuals, and thereby increasing the percentage of those called actually being asked to serve. We are reducing the inconvenience on our residents and saving money at the same time. Since taking office, we have made it a priority to increase our tax enforcement and compliance efforts, such as increasing our field audits and working with the Circuit Court on collecting outstanding debts. Our efforts have brought in an additional $20 million revenue in 2016. Especially in a year when we must ask for additional revenue, we have to make sure we are collecting all that is already due.
At the end of the day, this remains a tough budget. There will be criticism - that is inevitable. But the work we have done, the work we are doing, the work we will do cannot be summed up in a sound bite or a splashy headline.
I didn’t seek this position because I thought it would be easy. I did it because I believed in what we do at the county and am willing to work hard to get it done. As a teacher, I make a point to speak with students as often as I can. I always share with them my three guiding principles: planning, persistence and gratitude. It’s not only what got me here, it’s what sustains me in this work: the vision of what we can accomplish, the ability to work together to achieve it and gratitude for the help of those who make it possible.