Cook County cutting 1,100 jobs, blaming beverage tax

COOK COUNTY, Ill. -- Layoff notices are going out to 10 percent of Cook County employees and it's related to a court order on the county's new beverage tax.

Cook County had budgeted for the additional revenue the sugary drink tax would raise. But now with tax held up in court, officials are scrambling to close a budget hole.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle warned that she has to make massive cuts. About 1,100 county employees face layoffs.

“We don’t have the revenue because we’re in the midst of a big court battle and not having the revenue, we’re going to proceed to do the very difficult things we have to do,” Preckwinkle said.

But the Preckwinkle proposal has run into big resistance.

“I think it’s all a scare tactic and I also think it’s not the right thing to do. I think it’s aimed at the judiciary and it’s aimed at political retribution for individuals who did not support the beverage tax,” Richard Boykin, Cook County commissioner, said.

Boykin and two other colleagues say they want to work with President Preckwinkle to find a way to save the 1,100 jobs. He's looking to trim fat and wants a hiring freeze.

“Since April, the president’s offices have hired 71 people. Seventy-one people since April have joined the county’s budget,” Boykin said.

“They’re hopelessly disingenuous. They get a report every month. Every month on revenue and expenditures. Every month,” Preckwinkle said. 

The county board was counting on raising big money through the sweetened beverage tax.

According to Preckwinkle’s office, without the  tax, the county will lose $67.5 million for fiscal year 2017 and $200.6 million next year.

Preckwinkle says the only responsible thing to do now is make 10 percent across the board cuts.

“We anticipate a long court battle and we need to make the changes we need to make now,” Preckwinkle said.

County Sheriff Tom Dart is bracing for cuts. He says he was informed he needs to lay off 925 people.

“It’s beyond reckless to ask me to lay off that amount of people,” Dart said.

Dart said he’s worried about public safety.

“We’ve started trying to put together – we’re on like plan D, E, F and G now about how we’ll maybe have to shut down a courthouse, we’ll definitely have to cut down the entry point to courthouses. We’ve said that we won’t be able to operate in the same hours in certain areas. We’re trying to get all the plans together here. But this is not any way to run a government,” Dart said.

Preckwinkle said the pink slips will come out Friday or early next week. She said she can’t raise taxes in some other way because she promised the commissioners she wouldn’t ask them to do that.