CHICAGO — Cook County, Ill., Board President Toni Preckwinkle Tuesday proposed a $2.9 billion all-funds budget for fiscal 2012 that closes a $315 million shortfall with a mix of cuts and tax and fee increases.

The general fund spending plan totals $2.2 billion, a 4.6% decrease from the 2011 one.

Preckwinkle emphasized that less than 1% of the spending plan relies on one-time measures, though that figure does not appear to include a recent debt restructurings.

The refinancing, which Cook took to market in early October, allowed the county to push off $92 million of debt-service payments scheduled for 2012 as well as $85 million due in the current fiscal year and $85 million in 2013.

The refinancing represents a nonrecurring savings that won’t be available in future years.

“This is the toughest budget the county has had to face, and we couldn’t rely on one-time fixes. Instead, we’ve made long-term structural changes,” Preckwinkle told commissioners Tuesday in a special budget meeting. “This budget reflects our tireless commitment to get the county’s house in order.”

Commissioners will hold a series of meetings on the budget starting Thursday. A vote is expected Nov. 18. Preckwinkle and county finance chairman John Daley said they are confident a final budget will be passed by the end of November, which would mark the first time in years that Cook has had a budget in place by the time its fiscal year begins Dec. 1.

Preckwinkle’s budget features tax increases on alcohol and tobacco products — which one commissioner criticized as “poor man’s taxes” — as well as the use tax applied to property such as cars and boats.

By increasing the alcohol tax by 50%, the county expects to bring in a total of $37 million in fiscal 2012.

Tax and fee increases all together are expected to bring in $52 million in new revenue. The county will also require 100,000 residents who live in unincorporated areas to start paying for police protection.

The county will lay off 1,000 workers, reduce the number of jail inmates, and implement other cuts starting Dec. 1 to achieve a total savings of $40 million, officials said.

The budget proposes a $100 million bond issue backed by motor fuel taxes distributed by Illinois to finance a suburban highway infrastructure plan.

The county’s ongoing, five-year capital plan totals $700 million. The budget recommends spending $180 million in 2012 and $132 million in 2013.

No additional borrowing is expected next year or in 2013, as the county plans to use unspent proceeds from $300 million of bonds issued in 2009 under the former administration.

It is Preckwinkle’s second budget since coming into office in late 2009 after beating incumbent Todd Stroger in part by promising to eliminate a deeply unpopular 1% sales tax increase that Stroger supported.

The current budget continues the gradual rollback of the sales tax that she promised during her campaign.

The spending plan comes a few months after two of the three major rating agencies downgraded Cook, warning of persistent revenue pressures in the face of the gradual sales tax rollback and challenges including increasing pension payments, diminished reserves, and deficits in the health system.

Moody’s Investors Service in June dropped the county to Aa3 from Aa2. Fitch Ratings in September cut it to AA-minus from AA, and revised the outlook to negative. Standard & Poor’s rates it AA with a stable outlook.

Commissioner William Beavers, a frequent Preckwinkle critic, said he would not vote for the tobacco and alcohol tax increases. “Poor man’s taxes,” he said. “I will not be voting for this budget.”

Subscribe Now

Independent and authoritative analysis and perspective for the bond buying industry.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.