Five Cook County commissioners balk at pay cuts
Cook County commissioners Joan Murphy, left, and Deborah Sims chat with commissioner William Beavers at a board meeting. (Jose M. Osorio/2009 Tribune photo)
The commissioners, who make $85,000 a year, have asked the county comptroller for their money back instead of taking what officials say would amount to a 4.8 percent pay cut.
Murphy declined comment Wednesday. But the group, which also includes Commissioners Earlean Collins, Robert Steele, William Beavers, and Deborah Sims, points to a longstanding state law that says elected officials cannot be forced to take pay cuts during the middle of their terms.
Those five commissioners were part of a unanimous middle-of-the-night vote in February to approve a county budget that included the unpaid time off. New County Board President Toni Preckwinkle struck a deal with most county unions that required a combination of 10 furlough days and government shutdown days. The agreement was meant to save $29 million from the county's $3.05 billion budget and prevented hundreds of layoffs among the county’s 23,000 employees.
On Wednesday, Sims said she always was against the concept of furlough and government shutdown days, but voted for the budget because it was all or nothing.
The five commissioners who are declining the pay cut also were the only five to vote in February against rolling back the rest of a 1-percentage-point sales tax increase approved under former Board President Todd Stroger. Sims blamed the need for budget cuts on Preckwinkle’s decision to cut the sales tax.
“We got the penny (sales tax increase) to save the hospitals. Then what did we do? We turned around and rolled the penny back,” said Sims, D-Chicago. “If we had that penny today, and my understanding is, it’s for a quarter of that penny, we’d have $52 million in our budget. Surplus.”
Preckwinkle said county leaders need to be “role models” and that declining the pay cuts is “bad policy and practice.”
“I think that the board of commissioners has to continue to provide leadership to the county,” Preckwinkle said Wednesday. “I mean, we can’t ask our workforce to do things we’re not willing to do ourselves.”
On Tuesday, Preckwinkle issued a report at the County Board meeting meant to chastise the commissioners refusing to take pay cuts. Collins, D-Chicago, offered a blunt response: “I will not take a salary cut.”
Beavers told reporters Wednesday that he had made a deal with Preckwinkle that he would take the unpaid days off if she kept open Oak Forest and Provident hospitals — a deal that Preckwinkle’s administration strongly denied.
“She’s not doing what she’s supposed to do. She’s not keeping those hospitals open,” Beavers said of Preckwinkle. “It’s not about the salary. It’s about the deal. If you make a deal, then keep the deal.”
The county hospitals are run by an independent health board, though Preckwinkle has supported that board’s efforts to transform the hospitals into regional outpatient centers.
Beavers predicted Preckwinkle will be forced to retreat from pressuring commissioners to commit to the 10 furlough and shutdown days. “You’ll see her back off in another day,” he said.
Steele said he donated the $800 in back pay so far from three government shutdown days to a nonprofit. Steele declined to name the organization, but said that he planned to take the remaining seven days off of work unpaid.
“It’s my own personal protest. I’ve not banded with anybody else. This is my own personal issue,” said Steele, D-Chicago, who also indicated that the pay cut will affect his pension.