Once again, Cook County Chief Justice Timothy Evans and County Board President Toni Preckwinkle are having at it, this time locked in a battle over how much money to spend on the courts.
Judge Evans insists he can’t make the budget cuts — and layoffs — Preckwinkle is demanding because the courts would be so short-handed that justice would be undermined. Evans’ argument would be easier to swallow if he didn’t have two daughters on the payroll, each pulling down six-figure salaries.
Work this out, Judge and Madame President. But Judge, forgive us if we see more of a turf war here than an assault on Lady Justice.
Because the county’s ill-fated new tax on sweetened beverages expired Friday, Preckwinkle and the County Board have turned to spending cuts to balance their budget, including a $200 million cut for the court system.
But Evans, represented by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, filed a lawsuit Thursday arguing that the demanded cuts are so deep that the county courts won’t be able to do their job properly. Moreover, Evans argues, it’s not proper for the County Board to specify particular positions in the court administration for layoffs. If there are to be layoffs or other cuts, he says, it should be up to him to decide how to make them.
On Friday, the case was delayed until Tuesday to give the Cook County state’s attorney’s office time to hire outside counsel to represent Preckwinkle’s side of the debate. At a brief hearing, the outside jurist brought in to handle the matter, Lake County Judge Mitchell L. Hoffman, urged both sides to come to an agreement.
Much of the blame for the county’s budget problems can be traced to Springfield. Under Gov. Bruce Rauner, the state has fallen millions of dollars behind in paying what it owes to Cook County and has cut some funding entirely. As of Sept. 30, the state owed $104 million, not counting the $1.6 million in rent that’s in arrears for space the county rents to the state.
Evans and Preckwinkle have a history of being at loggerheads, both in previous battles over county budgetary matters in 2011 and 2013 and in earlier days when they were perennial opponents in Chicago’s Fourth Ward aldermanic races.
This latest flap looks to us like more of the same.
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