Cook County's Revenue System is Structurally Unable to Support the Public Services it Provides
September 24, 2007
Local governments, such as counties, cities, and townships, provide a number of basic public services that help create safe, clean, healthy, vibrant communities. Cook County, which has over five million residents and is the second largest county in the nation, is no exception. It delivers such essential services as public safety, the operation of the largest court system in the United States, health care for poor and low-income individuals through three public hospitals and 14 community clinics, the operation of the largest jail facility in the nation, and economic and human development programs. The cost of the public services Cook County will provide in FY2007 is $2.8 billion. By comparison, the annual budget for Los Angles County, which has nearly 10 million residents, is over $21 billion annually.
This Report analyzes the County’s fiscal system to determine whether it has the ability to fund and sustain the level of public services it currently provides. The analysis reveals Cook County has what is called a “structural deficit.” A structural deficit exists when a public entity’s fiscal system is unable to generate sufficient revenue to support base-level public services from one year to the next, adjusting solely for annual inflationary costs. It is important to recognize that the model used in this report assumes service levels will remain constant – that is, when running simulations of the cost of public services into the future, no service expansions are projected from FY2007 levels. Therefore, the starting point for the analysis in this Report is the service levels existing after the cuts made in FY2007.