Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle used her post-Board of Commissioners press conference Wednesday to again blast Gov. Bruce Rauner for a stalled budget and announced she’s asked departments to institute holdbacks for personnel and spending. She says some of the state’s Medicaid payments to the County’s hospitals are lagging by $100 million.
“Bureaus, departments and elected officials must trim their spending on personnel by an additional half a percent, and non-personnel items by three percent,” Preckwinkle told reporters. “These measures will not fully plug the gap created for us by Springfield. It will not pay for the expenses we incur every day enforcing child support for tens of thousands of Cook County minors. We continue to assess our options on that issue, including all possible legal remedies.”
The cutbacks would run from March 15 through November 30, the end of the fiscal year.
The Cook County Board last month passed a resolution from Comm. Larry Suffredin asking the State’s Attorney to look into ways the County could recoup that money. The resolution calls for the SA’s office to “review and research all existing court orders and consent decrees related to the 2016 Proposed State of Illinois Budget to determine if either they cover payments to Cook County or could be amended to cover payments to Cook County. Further, the Cook County State’s Attorney should research any new cause of action that would cause a Federal or State Court to order payment owed to Cook County.”
Preckwinkle says the state is more than $100M behind on some Medicaid payments owed to the Cook County Health and Hospitals System (CCHHS). “As a result of the failure of the state to pay its bills timely, [CCHHS is] running monthly deficits, and we’re going to have to take corrective action,” Preckwinkle said.
At a regular briefing during the Board of Commissioners meeting, CCHHS Chief Financial Officer Doug Elwell said the system was operating within “a fair amount of red ink as we continue to work through issues,” with enrollment in Cook County’s managed care Medicaid program, CountyCare. But Elwell anticipated the system would recover by the end of the fiscal year, as it had in 2014 and 2015. He said he’s getting advice from County CFO Ivan Samstein, and that the system is in negotiations with the state. “The state owes us $138 million,” Elwell said, though he characterized $68 million as a “normal lag.”
“We are now holding $31 million of their money and trying to negotiate with them to expedite the rest of the payments.”
Commissioners worried the delayed payments might impact CCHHS’ plans for new capital projects (including replacement of the outdated Fantus Clinic and CCHHS administrative offices), especially in light of lower-than-planned revenues from CountyCare and recent announcements of some possible competition: expansions at Rush University and the University of Chicago.
Elwell said the system is in talks with both Rush and U of C to ensure services wouldn’t be duplicative, and he’s confident issues with CountyCare will be worked out. “We just need to get our physicians to more often refer inside our system.” When asked, Preckwinkle didn’t express concern about CountyCare numbers at yesterday’s press conference.
Comm. Bridget Gainer asked that CCHHS brief the Finance Committee on enrollment in CountyCare and reimbursements to the system. “Those are troubling things. I want to make sure that before we make this enormous capital investment that we understand how people are using our system,” she said. Finance Chair John Daley agreed, and said he’d like an update on the impact of projects from Rush and U. of C.
Other Items from the Cook County Board of Commissioners
Litigation is still pending on Otero v. Thomas Dart, et al. The Litigation Subcommittee took up discussion of the case, which was slated to go to trial later this month. The two sides are instead pursuing a settlement. In 2011, Brian Otero was being held on Cook County Jail on a burglary charge, but was acquitted. Instead of going home, he was sent back to jail, told to put back on his uniform, and moved cell to cell for processing. He says when others found out he’d be going home, he was beaten, suffering torn ligaments in his hands and bruises on his face. Otero was released nine hours after his acquittal and is now lead in a class action lawsuit against the county for their post-acquittal detention policy. Commissioners requested monthly updates from the State’s Attorney’s office on the status of the settlement. A settlement on a similar issue in Los Angeles more than a decade ago cost taxpayers there $27 million, NBC Chicago reports.
A resolution from Comm. Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia urging Mondelez, the parent company of Nabisco, to continue its relationship with the South Side of Chicago, passed the board Wednesday. Garcia says 600 manufacturing jobs at the facility are “up in the air,” and the resolution “is simply imploring Mondelez and Nabisco to sit and continue to dialogue with affected workers, many of them residents of Chicago’s South and Southwest sides and suburban communities.” Comm. Richard Boykin, citing tax incentives Nabisco has received “reaching upwards of ninety million dollars” as well as an extended enterprise zone and $29 million in tax breaks over ten years, called for tougher legislation, or possibly penalties, for companies that leave the county after receiving tax breaks.
Commissioners voted for a resolution calling for the U.S. Congress to pass the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act, which “would help disabled and older Americans live at home” by offering more resources and options to the estimated 40 million unpaid family caregivers in the country.
A nearly $700,000 contract to Catalyst Consulting Group to make further improvements to applications on County Clerk David Orr’s website also passed the full Board of Commissioners. Catalyst has run the Clerk’s website since 2009, and developed 20 applications, according to the contract.
An amendment to the County Code allowing licensed firearm instructors with current registration from the state to use replica guns for education, instruction, and training on firearm safety within a business or classroom setting also passed the full Board. Comm. Gregg Goslin introduced a substitute that corrected County Code language in committee Wednesday morning. “A couple items were left off,” Goslin said, the replica gun used as cell phone holder ordinance and a section on toy guns commissioners already approved last October. A similar ordinance in Chicago City Council was passed the month prior.
An ordinance from Comm. Larry Suffredin that would create inspectors general for all municipalities and specialty districts, including Cemetery Associations; Drainage, Mosquito Abatement, River Conservancy, Sanitary, and Street Lighting Districts; and Water Commissions, was referred to committee yesterday. Comm. Jeffrey Tobolski requested the State’s Attorney verify whether the program is constitutional or enforceable, “before we spend taxpayer money.”
Suffredin also introduced a pharmaceutical disposal ordinance aimed at protecting the County’s waterways from “improperly disposed of prescription drugs passing through [the County’s] wastewater and treatment centers.” The ordinance cites Alameda County’s Safe Drug ordinance, which was passed and amended in 2012. The ordinance would establish a stewardship plan for the collection, transportation and disposal of covered pharmaceutical drugs. The program would be managed by the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. It was referred to the Legislation and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.
The so-called ‘tampon tax’ has made its way to the Cook County Board, after also being introduced at the City Council. Commissioners Richard Boykin and Deborah Sims introduced an ordinance that would exempt feminine hygiene products from the Cook County Retailers’ Occupation Tax. “Feminine products, like many medicines, are a necessity and not a luxury. Given this fact, these products should not be over taxed,” Commissioner Sims said in a release. Feminine products are currently taxed at the rate of any common product in Chicago: 10.25 percent. The proposal has been referred to the Finance Committee.