Last year, the City Council voted 50-0 to approve Emanuel's first budget, even though it included a host of increased taxes, fees and fines coupled with hundreds of layoffs, the closing of half of the city’s mental health clinics and reductions in library hours.
This year’s spending plan is free of that kind of pain. Nevertheless, aldermen today predicted a small number of “no” votes — but no more than five — because a small group of aldermen have increasingly taken stances that are at odds with the mayor’s priorities.
Under next year’s budget, all but a dozen or so of 275 job reductions would result from attrition. Graffiti scrubbing, weed whacking and tree trimming would be stepped up. More than $9 million more would be funneled into early childhood education, after-school programs and jobs, children’s eye exams and programs to address domestic violence.
Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th, who shepherded the mayor's spending plan through budget hearings as chair of the Budget Committee, opened debate by saying the plan takes steps to help people in Chicago who are hurting. "They're especially looking for help from you, Mr. President," Austin said, addressing Emanuel.
Ald. John Pope, 10th, said he likes the fact the budget holds the line on taxes on residents.
"I enjoyed the fact there are no new taxes, no new fees, yet it hires more police officers, which every citizen of this city knows is needed," Pope said.
The city also has promised to hire enough cops to bring the total of sworn officers in the city up to 12,500 and keep it there. The city now is a few hundred short of that goal.
Ald. James Balcer, 11th, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, endorsed Emanuel's plan for adding police recruits. "Crime has been a number one issue in this city," Balcer said. He touted the mayor's push to include funding for weekend police overtime to add officers.
"You and we are addressing (crime) as best we can," Balcer added.
Many aldermen, reacting to an increase in the city’s murder rate, have loudly protested that the city needs even more officers. But not a single one introduced a plan to spend less on other city services or increase taxes, fees or fines to make that happen. In addition, experts weighed in to point out that Chicago has the highest number of cops per capita of the nation’s five largest cities.
“Where are our priorities for our police department?” Ald. Robert Fioretti, 2nd, who planned to vote against the budget, asked this morning.
Fioretti also said he isn’t happy with the mayor’s plans to outsource telephone customer service at the Water Management Department. During budget hearings ,African-American aldermen lambasted the outsourcing plan, saying it would have an unfair impact on black employees.
But opponents backed off after top administration officials assured them that the 31 full-time employees to be laid off would get a shot at other vacant city jobs and said Tokyo-headquartered NTT Data, the company that will take over the operation, plans to hire 30 people in the city.
Although there are no new taxes, fines or fees in the budget, city residents, businesses, visitors and even suburbanites whose communities buy water from the city will still get hit in the pocketbook.
Water and sewer fees will continue to increase under a plan set in motion last year, parking meter fees and fines will grow because of the long-term lease of the city’s meter system approved under former Mayor Richard Daley and automated speed cameras that can issue tickets of up to $100 are expected to start popping up near schools and parks across the city.
Religious institutions also have complained about the city’s efforts to make them pay increasingly more for water — after decades of getting it free from the city.
City residents also will see an increase in their property taxes next year, because Chicago Public Schools boosted its levy. Meanwhile, CTA officials plan to announce their new budget proposal later today, and there’s no clear indication yet whether that will include a fare increase.