Preckwinkle sworn in as Cook County board leader

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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle pledged Monday to balance the county’s budget and eliminate the remaining half-cent per dollar sales tax increase imposed by her predecessor.

CHICAGO (AP) — Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle pledged Monday to balance the county’s budget and eliminate the remaining half-cent per dollar sales tax increase imposed by her predecessor.

Preckwinkle said at her swearing-in that her first task will be the budget. As president of the nation’s second most populous county, she will be overseeing some 24,000 jobs. Preckwinkle has estimated a $487million budget gap, and has already told the rest of the county’s elected and appointed officials that they will have to trim their budgets.

A longtime Chicago alderman, Preckwinkle won the four-candidate Democratic primary in February and went on to capture the seat easily in the largely Democratic county. She is the first woman elected to the post.

She campaigned as a reformer and has vowed to end patronage hiring and corruption allegations that have plagued the county office. She said Monday she will start by auditing the president’s office and taking a pay cut.

The 63-year-old Preckwinkle replaces Todd Stroger, whose one-term administration imposed the sales tax increase in February 2008. He came in last among four candidates in February’s primary.

Preckwinkle said that although next year’s budget proposal won’t include any further sales tax reduction, she planned to lower it by a quarter of a cent per dollar in 2012 and by the same amount in 2013.

"I wanted to be sure that I met the commitment that I made to the voters all across the county in the campaign," Preckwinkle said after being sworn in. "And this first year, starting $487 million down, it didn’t seem prudent to make a commitment to further reduce revenues, but we have a year to plan, and so I think implementing it over a two-year period at a quarter percent a time will allow us to be responsible and continue to provide good service to the people of Cook County."

Stroger’s initial move to raise the county portion of the sales tax by 1 percentage point — from 0.75 percent to 1.75 percent — caused a major public backlash. The Cook County Board agreed in December 2009 to override Stroger’s veto and to roll back half of the increase. That cut took effect July 1.

The county portion of the sales tax stands at 1.25 percent. If Preckwinkle succeeds with her plan, the county sales tax would drop to 1 percent in 2012 and back to 0.75 percent in 2013.

Preckwinkle also said that by the end of Monday, she would accept the resignations of as many as two dozen people who held executive posts under Stroger. She said she expects more changes in the coming weeks.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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