When asked how she felt that some of her budget policies would be cheered on by the Tea Party movement, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle initially responded by saying, “God, I hope not.”
The remark was made during a speech in which Preckwinkle made more than a few controversial comments, and gave everyone–Tea Partiers included–plenty to love, hate, and think about.
Preckwinkle is mandated by law to balance the budget, and was confronted by a $487- million hole when she took office, in addition to another $326-million gap projected hole for 2012.
As she admitted herself later in the speech, “what choice do I have?”
Preckwinkle’s budget, just released, is full of draconian cuts and layoffs, including the loss of 185 doctors at Oak Forest Hospital, which is being transformed into an outpatient clinic.
Preckwinkle sounded like a card-carrying member of the Tea Party movement when she responded, “raise taxes in the worst economic time in seventy years? I don’t think so,” to the suggestion that the gap could be closed by raising taxes.
She has, so far, fulfilled her pledge to roll back the sales tax increase imposed by her predecessor, Todd Stroger, and has even fulfilled a campaign promise to cut her own salary by 10 percent.
In fact, Preckwinkle recently channeled her inner Scott Walker when she said this of pension reform:
“The deal was that salaries are not going to be comparable to the private sector but they would get good benefits: they would get good health care and they would get good pensions. That was kind of the unwritten agreement between government workers and the government. But what’s happened over time, largely, frankly, because of the success of union organizing, is that salaries went up but you still had generous benefits as government employees. Now we’re in a situation where those generous benefits are extremely expensive to government and we are paying salaries that are closer and closer to being comparable to the private sector. So the deal kind of between government employees and government has broken down as salaries have risen.”
“It ends up now that government employees have probably more generous benefits than those in the private sector; they have defined benefit pension programs. They have very generous health care. And that’s less and less the case in the private sector. There really aren’t that many private sector companies or corporations that provide the kind of health care benefits that government employees have, or the general pensions.”
“So, we have to kind of renegotiate the deal between government workers and frankly, my view is that we’re going to have government workers who are going to have to pay more. We’re going to have to figure out how to make our pension system sustainable over the long-term. And one of the ways, I believe, as a government employee for 20 years, is that we as employees are going to have to pay more if we want to get the generous benefits that we’ve had in the past. Or we’re going to have to change the system – to a 401k system – defined contribution program rather than a defined benefit program that are prevalent in the private sector.”
Have no fear, Tea Partiers, Preckwinkle has also said many things you hate. For instance, during a speech that preceded her response to the Tea Party question, she said this of national health care reform: “We made a bargain with the devil when we passed health care, because we excluded the undocumented. In metropolitan areas like ours, there are many undocumented.”
Preckwinkle points out that it falls upon county hospital systems, like the one her office is responsible for, to care for illegals, and because they aren’t covered, the cost falls onto county hospital systems everywhere. Preckwinkle has also called the criminal justice system racist, once remarking, “Nobody talks about institutional racism, but what kind of a criminal justice system has an outcome where 70 percent of the people are African-American and the rest are Latinos?”
She’s recently condemned the War on Drugs saying, “for every white incarcerated for drugs, six blacks are incarcerated. In Cook County, it’s even worse.”
“We all know the drug war has failed,” she said. “We need to invest in treatment, education, and job training rather than incarceration.”
Preckwinkle will now take on the unions as she attempts to pass her budget.