'Tis the season to... fill gaping budget deficits.

Cook County is facing a budget deficit of $315 million, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle unveiled her plan to fill it yesterday.

Much like the budget that Mayor Emanuel presented a couple of weeks ago, Preckwinkle's budget is a mixture of cuts and revenue increases, and for the most part avoids short-term fixes.

President Preckwinkle said, “I am confident that this is a fair budget that rests on a framework of long-term financial management and strategic structural changes across county government. This framework will allow us to make long-term investments in the County —keeping our commitment to rolling back the 2008 sales tax increase and investing in a 3-year plan to rebuild our suburban infrastructure. Less than 1 percent of the budget solutions are one-time fixes, instead we made strategic structural changes. This is the most fiscally sound and forward-thinking budget the County has seen in a generation.” (See her interview with Chicago Tonight by going here).

But don't just take her word for it. Cook County has an easy-to-use website with a lot of information and tools for the public to use to better understand and weigh in on the 2012 budget plan. Especially useful is the "Resident's guide to the 2012 budget," for people who don't have an hour to spare to read through the whole budget line-by-line. There is also a schedule for budget hearings and meetings for those who are interested in attending and/or testifying. And if you have ideas on how to improve the budget or the website, there is a section on the website for that too.

President Preckwinkle has shown that she is dedicated to making Cook County more transparent and accessible to its residents. And with better transparency, Cook County can better ensure that taxpayer funds are spent wisely and residents in the not-so-distant future will be able to feel confident in knowing that each dollar of county expenditure is accounted for and that they can play a more constructive role in debates over how those dollars are spent. And for Cook County, that would really be something remarkable.

"Fast away the old year passes, hail the new, ye lads and lasses, fa la la la la, la la la la."