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QA: Bridget Gainer on the New Cook County Budget bet

Source:sites edit:casino time:2017-11-28

Last week the Cook County Board of Commissioners passed a revised budget—a necessity after the reversal of the sweetened beverage tax left a $200 million hole in the budget. The county balanced it with cuts (321 employees were laid off, and more than 1,000 vacant positions will be closed) and other measures. There were no added or increased taxes, but that scenario is unlikely to hold for long. As I’ve written before, major sources of county revenues aren’t indexed for inflation, so they have declined in real terms over the years, putting pressure on the budget even as the number of employees has declined.

I spoke with County Commissioner Bridget Gainer about the cuts and future revenues shortly after the budget vote.

How do commissioners evaluate potential cuts?

Since I got to the board, I’ve tried to use this guiding principle: What does government have to do—because we’re the only ones, or the best ones, to do it? For the county, that’s running the jail, running the rest of the criminal justice system—the court system, the public defender, and all of that—the collection of taxes and assessment, and the public health system.

One of the things I’ve worked on since I came to the board, and have been joined by others since then, is ways to handle nonviolent offenders differently. You can be guided by mission, to say, you really don’t need to be housing nonviolent offenders in jail because they don’t have $500 for bond. Over the last three or four years there’s been an increased push on [not requiring cash bail], electronic monitoring, treating women differently (since 85 percent of them in the jail are nonviolent offenders), and how do we treat pregnant women who are in jail. The jail population as of today is 6,400 people, which is the lowest it’s been in about 15 years.

We’re still running the jail, but by looking at it through a lens of what’s the right way the most efficient way to do it, you can do something that achieves both justice and a better financial outcome.

So the new budget includes layoffs in the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, but not the public defender?

Yes. Neither the public defender nor the state’s attorney took much of a cut.

Why was that decision made?

The jail population has dropped 30 percent. That doesn’t mean a 30 percent drop in correctional officers, but you could take reductions in the sheriff’s office, because their main responsibility, at least in the jail, is to oversee the detainees.

[To defer people from jail,] that’s a lot of the decision-making: How does somebody get charged? How does that case get prosecuted? Does it get deferred? So you need more people for the state’s attorney and the public defender. That’s where the balance was in parts of the criminal justice system. One had more demands than the other.

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