The Cook County Board will have to fill an $18.7 million budget gap ahead of the next fiscal year, the lowest since Toni Preckwinkle took over as board president, according to preliminary figures.
“When we walked in the doorway we had a $487 million gap to close — that’s half a billion dollars,” Preckwinkle said. “Every year thereafter the gap we had to close was smaller because we made structural changes in our operations ... and now it’s down from $487 million, which is where we started in the budget for 2011, to now where it’s … 18 million.”
The county’s budget is comprised of two funds. The general fund — which has a forecasted deficit of $11.9 million — covers the Office of the Chief Judge, the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office among others.
The second fund, which funds the county’s health system, has a 2020 deficit of $6.8 million.
Preckwinkle said she thought the county could close the gap without any new taxes, fines or fees but couldn’t commit to a budget cycle without layoffs because “I never know frankly what the individual separately elected officials may propose … we’re surely not anticipating any layoffs in the offices under the president.”
The preliminary forecast is riding high on several new taxes passed by the Illinois General Assembly in the last days of its session last month. They include the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, the Illinois Gaming Act, the Sports Wagering Act and the Online Sales Tax.
In all, they’ll amount to roughly $9.8 million in revenue for 2020, according to the forecast.
Ammar Rizki, the county’s chief financial officer, said the county will work with the Illinois Department of Revenue for the cannabis rollout, but the county has “very conservatively” projected $3.3 million in revenue.
Other revenue includes a projected $21.1 million increase from the sales tax, due to increased spending, but a decrease of $13 million from the cigarette tax due to the county raising the age residents can purchase tobacco from 18 to 21.
Year-end projections for the general fund show the county ending the fiscal year in the black by $14.9 million while the health fund will end in the red by $103.1 million, according to the preliminary budget.
That’s partially because the county’s managed care enrollment has declined — the county budgeted for 345,000 members to be enrolled in its CountyCare program. That number is around 315,000 or 316,000 people, according to Ekerete Akpan, the chief financial officer of Cook County Health.
The decreased enrollment has been a trend that Preckwinkle believes Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration will “help reverse,” but it’s unclear how quickly they’ll be able to do so. She also blamed Pritzker’s predecessor for the decrease.
“[The Rauner Administration] designed a system that made it easy to kick people out and harder to enroll people or re-enroll people,” Preckwinkle said, adding that the administration “sat on a bunch of Medicaid applications that they haven’t acted on.”
The health system is implementing a corrective action plan that includes a $60 million Medicaid graduate medicaid education payment from the state, non-personnel cuts and not filling vacant positions.
Ahead of the forecasted passage of the budget in November, Preckwinkle will meet with Mayor Lori Lightfoot next month to talk about opportunities for collaboration and cooperation, she said. A public hearing on the 2019/2020 preliminary budget forecast is set for July 9 and mid-year budget hearings are set for July 17.
“We made some very difficult decisions over the last nine years,” Preckwinkle said.
“We reduced our personnel costs significantly and made a number of other difficult decisions over the last nine years that have put us in a pretty good place now.”