Cook County

Judge Sues to Block Layoffs After Beverage Tax Repeal

Cook County's chief judge has filed a complaint against Board President Toni Preckwinkle looking to stop layoffs in his office as the repeal of the county's controversial beverage tax begins.

Chief Judge Timothy Evans hopes to force the county to comply with an administrative order halting the "termination, separation or layoff" of any employee in the Circuit Court without his approval. 

The order claims Evans, not the county, is the employer of non-judicial employees of a court. 

Layoffs were expected in wake of the sugar beverage tax repeal in the county - a move officials say is necessary to make up for the loss in funds the tax would have generated for the county's budget. 

The tax, which was repealed by the Cook County board earlier this year, elicited an avalanche of criticism when it was instituted. Sugary beverages in were subject to a one-cent-per-ounce tax thanks to the bill, but a groundswell of opposition led to its repeal in October.

Preckwinkle warned of dire budget cuts when the tax was repealed earlier this year, and more than 300 workers face layoffs after the board approved its 2018 budget earlier this month.

“Through shared sacrifice and cooperation we were able to develop and pass a balanced budget,” Preckwinkle said of the vote. “We have had to make exceedingly difficult but necessary choices, but we have met our fiscal obligation to the people of Cook County.”

Among those at risk of losing their jobs are positions in the Cook County Assessor's office, the Board of Review, the Chief Judge, the sheriff's office and others.

Preckwinkle says that a nearly $200 million budget gap was created when commissioners voted to repeal the tax, but the combination of spending cuts and lay-offs helped to close the gap, according to the president.

"The county’s budget process was six weeks long, and it seems that many of the elected offices the board funds did not seriously consider the fact that there was a $200 million budget hole that would be filled solely with cuts rather than tax revenue," Commissioner Richard Boykin said in a statement Friday. 

"If the Chief Judge wishes to find other ways to arrive at the $26 million cut to his office, so be it," Boykin added. "But all of the elected offices must come to terms with the fact that Cook County is finally living within its means, and that does not mean draconian cuts to public health and safety.”

The controversy over the tax still hasn’t fully subsided, as former Board President Todd Stroger has announced that he will run against Preckwinkle to try to unseat her in the next county election. 

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