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Cook County Expects More Belt-Tightening With $100M Budget Shortfall

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's preliminary budget plan for next year would mean some belt-tightening for county employees, and a cloudier future for local revenues.

The preliminary spending plan for 2018 keeps Preckwinkle's promise not to raise any more taxes to close a nearly $100 million shortfall, but she said everything else is on the table, including an attempt to hold down raises for county employees. With union contracts up at the end of the year, Preckwinkle said county officials want to keep raises below the 3 percent granted previously; inflation is lower than that.

"We've made it clear to our workforce that this is going to be an extremely challenging period, and I don't think there's any expectation on either side of the table that those kinds of increases will be repeated in this bargaining session," she said.

Preckwinkle also would not rule out possible layoffs.

She told reporters some county revenues are down, including projections for the county's new sugary drink tax, which goes into effect on July 1. She said the lower projections are partly the result of the state ruling the penny-an-ounce sweetened beverage tax cannot be applied to purchases made with food stamp benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

"We have revised downward our revenue projections, based on the fact that the Illinois Department of Revenue has ruled that SNAP purchases are exempt; and also because we've been in touch with our colleagues in Berkeley, California, and Philadelphia, where they saw a steeper decline in consumption," she said.

The tax is still expected to bring in about $200 million in the next fiscal year. The county originally estimated it would bring in about $224 million a year.

Preckwinkle said, on the plus side, the $98 million shortfall is the smallest budget gap the county has seen since she took office in 2010.

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