Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle was the guest speaker at a Cook County Suburban Publishers luncheon, Friday, May 20, at the Renaissance Chicago Hotel, 1 W. Wacker Dr.
During her speech Preckwinkle, who served as 4th Ward alderman for 19 years, spoke about how important newspapers are to communities.
“You have a direct line to your communities and their residents through your publications,” Preckwinkle said. “Yes, the business of newspaper publishing has its challenges – as does government – but gathering and reporting the news are critical to an informed public and to our civil, democratic society.”
Preckwinkle went on to speak about the progress the board has made during her five and a-half years as president, which includes obtaining a waiver to begin Medicaid expansion early and creating a County Care managed care program that is helping to provide preventative health care. The board had also created a sustainable revenue stream for the health and hospital system reducing the taxpayer allocation to the system from $400 million in 2010 to $121 million this year. The board has also made strides in prison reform, reducing the population at Cook County Jail from 10,000 to about 7,500.
“Only 7 percent of those in jail are actually serving a sentence,” Preckwinkle said. “That means 93 percent are there awaiting trial. And of those awaiting trial, 70 percent are accused of non-violent crimes.”
Preckwinkle concluded her speech with her thoughts on the budget deadlock in Springfield.
“We are now almost 11 months into the state’s 2016 fiscal year without a budget,” Preckwinkle said. “I find this unacceptable.”
One of her greatest concerns is the future of the healthcare system. She said currently, the state owes Cook County and the county’s health and hospitals system about $83 million. The largest chunk, is for the health and hospitals system – about $40 million at recent count.
“We have not received funds for the current year and are not guaranteed a penny of funding for next,” Preckwinkle said. “How many of you could afford to operate your business when you are owed money with no payment date in sight?”
She said with no plan in sight the county is “sending lay-off notices and planning the orderly termination of programs.”
She asked those in attendance to urge their representatives in Springfield to pass an operating budget for this year, despite this late date, and for next.
“Let’s get government working for all of our residents,” Preckwinkle said.