County Commissioner Bill Lowry (D-3rd) and 14 of his colleagues voted in favor of an aspirational resolution, “Justice for Black Lives,” that would reallocate funds from policing and incarceration towards public services not administered by law enforcement.
The resolution, which as approved on July 30, specifies reallocation towards services throughout the county, "but especially in Black and Brown communities most impacted by violence and incarceration."
It calls upon the board to invest resources in housing, health care and mental health, restorative justice, transit and jobs, including increasing opportunities available to minority- and women-owned business enterprise (MBE/WBE).
"We don't make law here, but we do breathe life into laws that reach us either from Washington or from Springfield. We do so by ordinance, and we do so by resolution," Lowry said at Wednesday's meeting. "This resolution touches my truth, and my truth is Black lives matter.”
In an interview, Lowry called the resolution a vision statement and the present a time "to seize this moment of collective consciousness to right the wrongs not of the last four years, not the last 40 years, but of the last 400 years." He connected his ongoing work as an elected official to the resolution’s goals.
The county government is responsible for the Cook County Health (CCH) system, courts and the jail; it runs the second-largest property tax system in the country and sets the budget for the sheriff, which reported $608 million in expenditures in the current fiscal year.
Board President Toni Preckwinkle, however, has said that the 2021 budget shortfall may reach $410 million next year, having already reached $280 million this year. Lowry said the county would do its best to avoid layoffs among government employees, though he conceded that the situation does not look good and is not getting better.
"We're looking at a situation where the projections of deficit for 2021 are vast, so I cannot sit here and say to you that we've identified where $25 million is going to come from," he said, hypothesizing an amount that could be transferred to social services. "I can say to you that that is not the amount being sought to seed the programming."
Facing severe financial headwinds as they exist, Lowry suggested that economic empowerment will be the ultimate salve for police brutality, structural racism and neighborhood violence. He pointed to his Good Faith Effort Transparency Report Ordinance, which passed last year, that requires county contractors who seek waivers from MBE/WBE participation to explain their rationales.
"That level of transparency tells us two things: if there is truly a contract where an individual is not able to find an MBE or WBE to partner with, that creates an opportunity for us to fill that void," he said. "But on the other hand, what I believe we see is fewer situations where waivers are being requested, and that's exactly what's happened."
And amid a public health crisis, Lowry suggested that work continue on the planned reconstruction of Provident Hospital, replacing the facility at 500 E. 51st St.
The Tribune reported that the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board approved CCH’s plan to built a new $240 million hospital, but the plans went on ice in February, even before the pandemic erupted locally, amid the brouhaha over the firing of the hospital system's CEO. Though CCH faces a gigantic shortfall after federal assistance runs out, Lowry said officials project an opening in late 2022 or early 2023.
Buttressing Provident, one of two public hospitals in Chicago, should be prioritized, he argued, as CCH provides 60% of the charity care to Cook County residents.
"That continues to be our charge," Lowry said. "We're very cognizant of it, and we're doing everything in our power to make sure that those individuals who otherwise would have no health care have health care, and charity care is one of the ways that we can do it."